The two main characters in this story are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. All other characters are mine except William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan, the true life director of the OSS. This tale depicts the two main characters as more than just friends and contains descriptions of violence and many instances of graphic language including the "F" word so be forewarned. This tale picks up six months from the end of "The Favor." While it is not necessary to read that one the reader should be aware that some persons and events from it are mentioned here without much clarification.
With this tale I mark one year in the world of X:WP fan fiction. Accordingly I would
like to pause here and express my sincere gratitude to a great lady who during that time
has shown me nothing but kindess, support, and most appreciated of all, patience. Thanks, MaryD,
you're the best.
Prologue May, 1942
"With the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God."
With these words President Franklin Roosevelt leads his stunned nation into the greatest armed conflict in history. Before it is over between fifty and sixty million people will be dead, an entire continent will be laid waste, traditional global powers such as Britain and France fade only to be replaced by two huge superpowers, and weapons of mass destruction such as the world has never seen will be created guaranteeing that if a future war is fought on a scale even remotely resembling this one it will threaten not only civilization but the very existence of man himself.
It is a period when many Americans fear the real possibility of foreign troops on American soil for the first time in 130 years. This is not mere hysteria for indeed the news during the six months since America's entry into the war is of one of disaster after another. This hysteria is soon made manifest in one of the most shameful acts ever committed by the American government. 110,000 Americans on the west coast are torn from their homes and trucked off to hastily built "internment" camps. The only "crime" these otherwise loyal, hard working American citizens are guilty of is they are Japanese; 70,000 of these being "Nisei," American born descendants of Japanese parents. These people are as steadfastly loyal to their country as those Americans of German or Italian descent but they suffer the additional burden of racial bigotry. Later on in the war, when these young "Nisei" are finally involved in the war effort, they prove in magnificent fashion just how true their allegiance is. As members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, serving in Italy, they number only about 4500 at full strength yet will earn almost 4000 individual decorations for bravery.
On December 10, the American possession of Guam falls, on December 23, Wake Island surrenders. On April 9, 1942 the seventy thousand sick and starving American and Filipino defenders of Bataan cease resistance and are subjected to what becomes known as the "Death March" by their brutal Japanese conquerors. It is the greatest defeat in the history of American arms. On May 5 the tiny island of Corregidor falls and with it, America's last stronghold in the Philippines.
The British too are swept under by the seemingly invincible Japanese tide. On the same day Guam falls they receive the shocking news that the pride of their fleet, the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" have been sunk by Japanese war planes off the coast of Malaysia. The news only gets worse. On Christmas Day Hong Kong falls and on February 15, they suffer their own worst defeat in all of British history, the fall of Singapore. The entire Western Pacific from Korea to the Dutch East Indies to Wake Island to the Solomon Islands is now under the domination of the Japanese Empire. Even the survival of Australia and New Zealand is in question.
The situation in Europe is just as grim. Hitler has the continent in a stranglehold and has renewed the assault on the Soviet Union with a massive spring offensive. This causes many Allied leaders to shudder at the possibility of a gigantic link up between Nazi forces driving east and the Japanese hordes pushing west into Burma and perhaps even India itself. Only in the desert of North Africa are any land forces of the Western Allies in action at all and they were locked in a seemingly endless back and forth affair with the Italians and the famed Afrika Korps. In this theater success is mainly a matter of which side had been resupplied most recently.
Supplies. There is an old saying that when discussing battles amateurs speak of strategy and tactics while professionals speak of supply lines and logistics. They know that without men and materiel even the best laid plans are doomed to fail. And the entire world knows where most of these supplies will come from--the United States of America. Even in 1942 US war production is already revving up to a pitch that will astound its allies and dismay its enemies. By the end of the war it will be producing more for the war effort than all the other combatants combined.
However it is one thing to produce goods, it is quite another to transport them. In the spring of 1942 German U-boats are absolutely running wild in the Atlantic. The Germans note 111 ships sunk in May, for a year-to-date total of 377, more than 100 between New York and Miami. In this period they will remember as the "Happy Time" the Deutsche Kriegsmarine is sinking cargo ships faster than they can be built and is threatening to completely cut England's already very tenuous life line to America. These marauding raiders become so bold as to sink ships in broad daylight within plain sight of horrified witnesses watching from shore along the Eastern seaboard.
About the only good news for the United States during this dark time is Colonel Jimmy Doolittle's daring but largely ineffective raid on Tokyo on April 18 and the confused fight with the Japanese Navy in the Coral Sea in early May. Though technically a draw it is in reality a real strategic victory for the beleaguered US Navy because it forces back a Japanese invasion force bound for Port Moresby on New Guinea. Had their plan succeeded in all likelihood the next step for the Japanese would have been to attempt an invasion of Australia itself. The US Navy has stopped the Japanese by the skin of their teeth. This setback gives the Americans and Australian precious time to build up their forces enough to launch a counterattack on New Guinea and later, the Solomon Islands. There is however no cause for rejoicing. Already rumors abound of a big Japanese push eastward--possibly even as far as Hawaii itself.
In contrast to the rapid succession of events during the time since Pearl Harbor, Janice Covington had spent the time doing little more than sitting on her hands waiting...and waiting...and waiting. After she and Mel had succeeded so well on their first assignment on Borneo, Janice had surely expected to be called on before now. However in that entire time she had only had one meeting with any government officials and that was merely to inform her that she and Mel would henceforth be attached to a relatively obscure agency with the cryptic name Office of Information. It was made plain to her at this meeting that she and her companion would not be communicated with on a regular basis.
When told this Melinda had taken it to be a kiss off. Her comment to Janice had been, "I guess they think bein' able tuh read ancient Sumerian ain't much help in fightin' the Nahh-zees." Like Winston Churchill, Melinda pronounced the hated word with only a soft "zee", omitting the "tee" sound most people used with it. Janice had to admit she was probably right. However they were kept on the government payroll all the same.
What the two women weren't told was that they were indeed considered very valuable assets--not so much for what they knew but whom they knew. It was duly recorded in Janice's rather thick FBI profile that during the tumultuous years from 1936 to 1941 she had been to every continent at least once and had become acquainted with most of the heavyweights of her profession. Most of these archaeologists cared little about the deteriorating international situation as long as they were free to do their work but it was known some of them had very definite opinions about how things ought to be. The Frenchman LaPalme, for example, was a great admirer of Lenin and, to a lesser extent his successor, Stalin. At the other end of the spectrum the brilliant John Price from the University of Chicago was known to be a Nazi sympathizer, and went as far as to seriously considering joining the Bund, the American chapter of Adolph Hitler's little fan club.
She remembered Sir Geoffrey Adams once telling her the only way the decadent West would be saved would be through dictatorship. In fact she recalled meeting several Brits whose leanings were considerably more to the right than most of their countryman. Janice could see how many of these sincere, well meaning people could be smitten by the alluring Jezebel that was totalitarianism. If one looked at the orderly German society with its clean cities and its efficient government and compared that to say, the slums of London or New York and the constant, often counter-productive bickering of a two-party system of government it was quite understandable how some could be swayed. In fact, it was a great irony that many of the so-called "intelligentsia," people that Hitler and Stalin despised, were the very ones most enthralled by dictators.
In early March Janice and Melinda came to the conclusion that if they were going to have to stick around they might as well buy a house and do it right. They soon found a house on the outskirts of Annapolis and set about turning it into a home. During the negotiations over price the real estate agent had become incensed at Janice's shrewd bargaining and had snidely remarked to her that it might be difficult for two unattached women to obtain a loan without a male co-signature. He then compounded his error by wondering aloud what two otherwise very attractive "cuties" were doing living by themselves anyway.
Janice had responded by angrily reaching into her pocket and pulling out a roll of bills large enough to choke a horse and telling him they didn't need any goddamn loan, that they would offer him twelve thousand bucks for the house and not a penny more and furthermore it wasn't any of his fucking business what they were doing living alone. Only Mel's gentle intervention kept Janice from socking the guy then and there. She had ended her tirade by informing him that if he wanted a sale he had exactly two minutes to fish or cut bait.
The stunned agent had taken one look at the huge wad of green backs in the tough little woman's fist, mentally calculated what his commission would be on her fair offer, and decided they could be Martians for all he cared. Besides the owner was in a hurry to sell the place, having already moved to Connecticut.
Once the house was theirs Janice told Melinda to do with it as she pleased. As she
furnished the place Mel took into account the fact that Janice did not particularly care
for bright colors or frilly things and while she would have preferred something bit
more...feminine it really didn't matter. The only thing in the house that really
interested her was Janice and in her adoring eyes that was something that was darn near
perfect the way it was. Since that time they had done little except keep up with the
sobering war news and collect paychecks once a month from Uncle Sam. But all that changed
on Saturday, May 30, 1942 and this is where we pick up our story.
The phone call was short and sweet.
"Hello-oh? Janice Covington? Yes, she's here. Jes' a minute, I'll get her." Melinda Pappas placed her hand over the mouthpiece. "Janice, it's for you."
"Yeah," Janice answered, taking the phone. "Uh huh. Right. We'll be ready."
"Who was it, Jan?" Mel asked anxiously.
"That Pierce guy," Janice replied. "He says somebody wants to meet with us today at three o' clock."
Mel wrinkled her nose and said, "But today's Saturday. What could anyone..." Her face then brightened. "Golly, Jan, do ya think it could be a job?"
"Could be." Janice grinned impishly and added, "Or it could be to tell us our services are no longer needed."
"Hmph," snorted Mel. "We haven't rendered any services yet." She looked at the clock and saw 10:45. "Oh my, I've got to get ready."
"Oh m'gosh, you're right. You'd better get a move on," teased Janice. "After all, you only have three hours or so before they come to pick us up."
"Well it takes some of us a little longer to make ourselves presentable," sniffed Mel. "Not all of us are satisfied to throw on a pair of trousers and a shirt and pronounce ourselves ready."
"Hey!" Janice protested, feigning indignance. In truth she loved to see Mel dressed up. She didn't know quite what it was but the sight of that perfectly groomed, statuesque beauty immaculate in one of her tailored ensembles always aroused within her a desire to have the woman then and there. And on several occasions--she had. For her part Melinda knew what it did to her and she wondered maybe if it was because it was something Janice could never bring herself to be. Whatever it was she didn't care for it always excited her so much to see Janice in one of her predatory moods. She seemed so...dangerous.
It was a given in their relationship that Janice was the dominant of the two but Mel considered hers to be a sweet submission. For all the bluster and bravado Janice was never ever anything but kind, considerate, loving, and patient-- albeit in her own unique way. Mel had learned quickly enough that Janice was not one to suffer fools lightly. Her temper was legendary. But whenever Melinda was the one who screwed up, as she sometimes did for she was terminally clumsy, Janice would merely roll her eyes and sigh loudly. God, but she loved the woman!
With Mel now firmly entrenched in the bathroom Janice decided to go out into the back yard. She emptied the remaining contents of the coffee percolator into her favorite cup, a plain white handleless navy mug given to her by Chief Ryan while aboard the USS San Francisco. She then pushed open the screen door and stepped out from the kitchen and into the back yard. It was a beautiful late spring day. The brutal heat and humidity that usually marked summers here had not yet arrived and for that Janice was thankful. She took a seat on some concrete blocks left by the previous owner that were stacked up under the large silver maple located in the center of the back yard. As she sat there sipping her coffee she could hear Mel inside half singing, half humming some tune, maybe "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree." She smiled and looked across the yard and saw a cardinal hopping from branch to branch in the thicket that lined the rear of the yard. So this is what it's like to live a normal life, she thought. She had to admit it wasn't as bad as she had feared.
Although being anchored in one place for such an extended period of time left her feeling antsy at times she knew Melinda had taken to life here like a duck takes to water. But then of course, Janice reminded herself, why shouldn't she? After all the gentle Southern belle had been born into a family that prided itself on its stability. Her father had taught at the University of South Carolina for thirty-one years. He and Mel's mother lived in the same house all their married lives. Melinda's younger brother, Robert, had followed an eighty year old custom by the men in the Pappas family, gone to The Citadel, and was now a lieutenant in the army.
And the traditions in the Covington family? Janice ruefully ticked them off. There was alcoholism for one, chronic depression for another, the practice of never living more than three months at a time in one place for another. Sometimes Janice wondered what it would have been like if she and Melinda had been born into each other's families. Would Mel be tough and aggressive? Would Janice like to primp and wear nice clothes? She knew it was the tired old debate about what influenced behavior more, environment or heredity but, still, it was something to ponder while waiting for your lover to surrender the bathroom.
For forty-five minutes she sat perched on those blocks in the shade of the huge maple tree and mulled over everything from her traumatic abandonment by her mother to what sort of present she should get Mel for her birthday which was just days away. Finally...
Janice was startled from her reverie by the sound of Melinda's soft drawl at the back door. "Huh?"
"What are yuh doin' out there?"
"Oh...uh, nothing. Just waiting for you to finish, that's all."
Mel stepped out into the back yard and walked toward her. Janice eyed her in her pleasingly tight skirt and a blouse that she had finally convinced her did not need to be buttoned up to her eyeballs. Damn! thought Janice. She is absolutely gorgeous.
"Don't cha think you ought tuh get ready now? Mel asked with a smile.
Janice pointed at her and said, "Mel, I could try for a week and not look half that good."
A hint of crimson came to the taller woman's cheeks as she took Janice's hand in hers. "Now that's silly and you know it. You're a very lovely woman, Janice Covington, no matter how much you try to hide it. Now come on inside."
Janice gave her a barely perceptible shrug of the shoulders and dumped the remnants of her now cold coffee out onto the ground.
At precisely two o' clock a black Buick stopped in front of their house and a man Janice knew only as Pierce got out and made his way up the walk. Even before he reached the door Janice and Mel were out to meet him.
"Nice place ya got here, ladies," said Pierce.
"It keeps the rain off," replied Janice matter-of-factly. Mel recognized this as a signal that her own Jan was now gone and in her place was the no-nonsense, tough-talking Janice.
"Uhh right." Pierce responded, with some surprise. He decided to try a different tack. "Miss Pappas, I must say you're looking very spiffy today."
"Why thank you, sir," replied the ever gracious Mel.
Oh brother, thought Janice. For a moment Pierce just stood there gawking in obvious admiration for the long legged beauty before him. But not for long.
Her green eyes flashing, Janice said, "It's not polite to stare you know."
"Oh, uh, I'm sorry," he stammered. He gestured toward the Buick. "If you ladies will follow me please."
As they followed him to the car Mel whispered, "Janice that wasn't very nice."
Janice, however, had her own opinion. With a hoarse whisper she replied, "You know, it's probably a good thing you wear those god awful glasses."
"What do yuh mean?" Mel asked suspiciously.
"I mean if some of these peckerheads ever saw just how goddamn beautiful you really are you wouldn't be able to get out of the fuckin' house without being swarmed over."
"Why, Janice Covington, do I detect the presence of a little green-eyed monster?" Mel whispered playfully.
"No," Janice corrected her, "you detect the presence of a gigantic green-eyed monster."
Mel beamed the woman her best smile and squeezed her arm. "Well you jes' sent that little ol' monster back to wherever it came from because you are the only one I want swarmin' over me."
Their trip into Washington was an easy one. The Office of Price Administration had already begun gas rationing and would soon make restrictions even tighter so cars were scarce. None essential civilian travel by was by this time being discouraged on all levels. On their way into town Pierce spoke little except for little snippets of small talk with Mel. He noticed the Covington woman had said nothing at all. She's an odd one, he thought. It seemed strange to him how two women with such different personalities could get along so well. And they did seem to get along well together. Perhaps too well. What a waste, he thought. That Pappas dame is real looker.
At last Pierce wheeled the Buick into a parking lot on F Street and turned off the ignition.
"What's this?" asked Janice, her suspicion rising. Inwardly she cursed herself for allowing her guard to slip. Remember your motto, stupid. Trust no one.
"Relax, Covington," said Pierce. "This is where we're to meet 'em."
Janice figured all those months of inactivity had dulled her instincts and she suddenly found herself wishing she had brought along her trusty .45 automatic. "Well somebody's been watching too many movies," she persisted.
Seeing her friend's concern, Mel opened up her fair sized purse and took out a stick of piece of Beeman's gum. She then dropped the pack back into her purse. "Oh I'm sorry," she drawled. "Where are my manners? Janice, would you like a stick of gum?"
"No, I don't want any gum."
"Aww come on," Mel urged, setting her purse in Janice's lap. "Take one."
"Mel, I said..." Then it came to Janice. Melinda Pappas never, ever chewed gum. It was now she finally took the hint and peeked into Mel's purse. There, down deep in the bottom of the purse partially covered by a handkerchief, was Janice's big .45. The archaeologist shot a surprised look at her companion and was met by the faintest hint of a smile.
Atta girl, thought Janice admiringly. At least one of us still has some brains. "On second thought I will have one." she said aloud, giving Mel a discreet wink.
"I kinda thought ya might," replied Mel. "Here Mister Pierce, I've changed my mind. Do you want this?"
"Don't mind if I do, Miss Pappas," said Pierce.
"Mel," said Melinda, "Call me Mel." She reached forward and gave her stick of gum to him.
"Here," said Janice, handing Melinda back her purse, "keep this handy. You never know, I might need that handkerchief of yours."
Just then a nondescript car, Janice judged it to be a DeSoto, pulled into the parking space directly opposite them. Inside the car were three men, two in front, one in the back. Even before the car's engine was turned off Pierce was out of the car and on his way to the second vehicle.
"Janice, what is all this?" Mel asked anxiously.
"I don't know, Kid," replied Janice. "Just take it easy and keep that purse where I can get to it."
After Pierce exchanged a couple of terse sentences with the driver Janice saw the lone man in the back seat get out of the car. He nodded to Pierce who then immediately replaced him in the back seat. Before approaching their car the man stopped at the driver's window and was handed what looked to Janice to be a thick folder.
"Well," Janice said, "here we go."
The man got in on the passenger's side in front and plopped the folder down in the seat. He then turned and shifted his no nonsense gaze from one woman to the other. "Which one of you is Covington?" he asked roughly, knowing full well the answer.
"I am," replied Janice.
The man then cast a wary eye at Melinda. "You must be Pappas then."
There was something about his steely gaze that made Melinda extremely nervous. "Why uh, yes," she stammered.
The man then shifted that unnerving gaze to Janice who never batted an eye. "Are you sure Miss Magnolia here can cut the mustard?"
"She can cut it," Janice answered icily. Who does this guy think he is? she thought angrily.
The man still did not seem convinced. "You're sure?" he persisted. "'Cause I don't want any slip ups."
That did it. "Look, you creep, I don't know who the fuck you are and I don't really give a shit. As far as Mel is concerned if she hadn't been there on Borneo with me that goddamn little trinket you boys wanted so badly would be in Tojo's hot little hands now instead of ours. So don't you ever question her competence again, you hear? I trust her with my life, pal." Janice jerked her head toward the men in the other car. "Can you say the same for those twerps over there?"
Had Janice seen Mel's face she would have noted it to be a very nice shade of crimson
Beneath the gruff exterior the man inwardly smiled. Marshall was right, he thought. She's as tough as they come. Just what I need. "My name is Donovan," he said aloud. "William J. Donovan. My title is Coordinator of Information. That makes me your boss. I've been informed by the President that soon the Office of Information will be reorganized into the Office of Strategic Services and I will be named its director."
"Does this name change signal a real change or is it just more bureaucratic bullshit?" asked Janice bluntly.
Donovan eyed her in amusement. "You don't beat around the bush, do you, Covington?"
"My arms are too short to beat around bushes," retorted Janice.
Melinda could not be sure but she thought she saw a twinkle in Donovan's eye. He's testing us, she thought.
By now William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan, Coordinator of Information, soon to be Director of the OSS had already decided he liked this Covington. Even before taking the job that was to make him a legend, "Wild Bill" Donovan had led a notable life. Born on New Year's Day, 1883 in Buffalo, New York he graduated from Columbia Law School in 1907 and by 1916 was serving with New York National Guard on the Mexican border. When the United States entered the Great War in 1917 he went to France as a member of the famous "Fightin' 69th" and was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery during the Meuse-Argonne offensive.
Upon returning home he served from 1924 to 1929 as Assistant Attorney General of the United States during the Coolidge administration. In 1929 he returned to private practice and, except for a failed bid for the governorship of New York in 1932, remained there until July,1941 when he was appointed Coordinator of Information by Franklin Roosevelt.
"Well I can't tell you much, you understand," said Donovan. "But I can say this much. The OSS will be becoming much more, ah, aggressive shall we say, in its operations."
"Yes, Miss Pappas?"
"If I may, sir, jes' where do we fit in to all this?"
"Well, young lady, I've been giving that a lot of thought," said Donovan. "A lot of thought. You see, it seems the President and General Marshall think rather highly of you two. I have to tell you it is no small task to impress George C. Marshall so to have him in your corner tells me you two have something on the ball."
This revelation surprised Janice greatly for she had assumed the aloof Marshall had long since forgotten all about her. What she did not know was Marshall had made a career of never forgetting anyone that might prove useful to the nation someday.
"I'm sure the General is a very busy man these days," said Janice absently.
"We all have our jobs," said Donovan. He reached down, picked up the folder, and dropped it in Janice's lap. "Ladies," he said, "it's time you started earning your pay."
Janice flipped open the folder while Mel inched closer to get a look. "Oh my!" she cried softly. "It's--"
"Price," said Janice, finishing the identification for Mel.
"How well do you know the guy?" asked Donovan.
"Well enough," replied Janice. "Professor of Archaeology at the University of Chicago. Brilliant guy. Very competitive. One arrogant son of a bitch."
"I take it then you've had dealings with him," said Donovan.
"We've butted head a couple of times," Janice told him.
"How'd you do?"
"Won one, lost one," said Janice.
"Then you fared better than most," allowed Donovan. "That file in your lap represents five years of intense scrutiny by the FBI on our boy Price." Donovan looked the archaeologist squarely in the eye and said, "You know, of course, he's a Nazi sympathizer."
"You could say I had an inkling his politics were a little more to the right than FDR's. So do you think he's a spy or something?"
"We don't know," Donovan admitted.
"Then why all the sudden interest in him now?"
"Six weeks ago Price suddenly left the country and went to Costa Rica. Supposedly he's down there supervising an archaeological dig at some Guaymi Indian burial ground."
"We think he has a more ulterior motive for being in Central America at this time," said Donovan.
"Then you'd be right," said Janice. "Nobody in their right mind is going to sponsor a dig with a war on."
"It's like this, Covington. For the last month Price has been down there rooting around on that hillside of his and by all accounts is not getting much done. We have reports of a lot of activity around the site but it does not seem to be managed with the usual Price efficiency. Ideally we would like to get some photo reconnaissance of the area but of course that's not possible with the limited resources the air corps has right now. However we do suspect he's using the site as a front for something else. What, we have no clue. That's where you and Miss Pappas here enter the picture. We want you to get down there and find out what the hell Price is really up to. Use your expertise to ascertain if his site is legitimate or phony baloney."
Janice took one quick glance at Melinda before replying, "Okaaay. When do you want us to leave?"
"Well as you know air transportation is at a premium right now so the best we could come up with is passage on a freighter. For security reasons you won't be told its exact time of departure until just before it sails. I can say you have at least two days so that will give you plenty of time to get packed and to study this file."
"Will we have somebody we can contact down there?" Janice asked.
"Nope. Sorry. We're just spread too damn thin right now," said Donovan. "You're on your own for now."
"I see," said Janice. "So how will we communicate?"
"By plain old telephone," said Donovan. "You will be given a number you can reach when you're contacted about your departure time. You will be able to reach someone at that number anytime day or night. There is a sheet in the folder that explains the procedure you will employ, understand? Learn it and destroy it."
"Fine. Good luck to you two." Donovan pulled the handle and cracked open the door.
"Ah just one thing," said Janice.
"Do you usually make it a habit to personally appraise those under you of their missions?"
"Not really," said Donovan. He got out of the car and then stuck his head back inside. "But I'm told what you did in Borneo was of great service to our country and I wanted to get a look at a couple of heroes."
The two of them watched Pierce pile out of the back seat of the car as Donovan approached.
"Ya know, Jan," Mel mused aloud, "maybe someday somebody will be kind
enough to tell us jes' what it is we did.
The next day a half a world away two midget submarines sneak into the harbor at Sydney, Australia. The target for this operation is the cruiser USS Chicago. The subs fire their torpedoes at the parked cruiser and the fish race under the ship, hitting the ferryboat Kuttabul, which is serving as a depot ship, killing 20 Australian sailors. One submarine is sunk by harbor defenses, the other two man crew commits Hara-kiri.
This is the opening move in Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's plan to lure out the American carriers and destroy them once and for all. At the other end of the Pacific, in another feint, the Japanese invade the islands of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians and bomb Dutch Harbor. To get his "decisive battle" Yamamoto believes an attack on one of America's few remaining possessions in the Pacific, Midway Island, is needed. This will surely cause the US Fleet to come to the rescue, straight into the trap laid by the Combined Fleet.
But what Admiral Yamamoto does not know is that his opposite number, the quiet Texan Chester Nimitz, has set a trap of his own. Thanks to the work of signals intelligence officer Joseph Rochefort, Admiral Nimitz, unlike his unfortunate predecessor at Pearl Harbor, knows where the Japanese are to strike. Against the strong recommendations of his boss, Chief of Naval Operations Ernest J. King, Nimitz gambles everything and decides to commit America's most precious assets in the Pacific Theater, the aircraft carriers Hornet and the seemingly indestructible Enterprise, designating them Task Force 16. He knows only too well that if these are lost the entire west coast of the United States will be open to attack.
That evening, two Japanese Kawanishi flying boats are scheduled to refuel from submarines at French Frigate Shoals, and fly on to Pearl Harbor for a final reconnaissance mission. but when I-168 pokes its periscope up at French Frigate Shoals, it finds the US seaplane tender USS Ballard there. The plan, "Operation K," is scrubbed. The Japanese will not know if the American carriers are still in Hawaii. On the battleship Yamato, Adm. Yamamoto, suffering diarrhea, nibbles at rice porridge, when he gets the word that "Operation K" is off. He also has word that American radio traffic is unusually heavy, most messages marked "urgent." He shows the messages to Captain Kameto Kuroshima, his chief of staff, who has drafted the Midway plan, and says, "These must be sent to Admiral Nagumo and the carrier force immediately." Kuroshima protests. "He must have picked them up -- and we can't risk breaking radio silence." Yamamoto disagrees, but Kuroshima is firm. The messages are not sent. Radio silence is maintained. And Nagumo has not picked up the messages (Akagi's antenna is smaller and weaker than Yamato's), so Nagumo steams along, ignorant of the American carriers' location.
The next day, June 1st, 1942 finds Task Force 16 positioned some 325 miles northeast of the island of Midway. Their commander, Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, briefs them on the impending battle of Midway, putting his sailors in the picture at last. Never one much for speeches the brilliant Spruance makes one of the great understatements of the war when he tells them, "The successful conclusion of the operation now commencing will be of great value to our country."
June 2nd, 1942...Amid the cold and driving rain, with visibility down to 100 feet, the USS Yorktown and its escorts, designated Task Force 17 and under the command of Rear Admiral Jack Fletcher, join up with carriers Enterprise and Hornet off Midway. The trap, if one can call it such with a straight face, is set. In fact all the US Navy has left to throw against the greatest assemblage of seapower ever to sail under the Rising Sun are three carriers, seven heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and 15 destroyers. The Japanese have over ninety ships moving in towards them behind the weather fronts. Aboard the Nagumo task force, Japanese carrier pilots, instead of training or going over targets, listen to records and relax. Overconfidence is rampant.
At dawn on the morning of June 4--one of the most memorable dates in American military history--the battle of Midway commences. It opens with Nagumo launching his bombers to hit Midway and soften the island's defenses for his invading troops. The Marine pilots on Midway, flying the hopelessly outclassed Buffalo fighter, put up fierce resistance. Of the twenty-six American planes to go up to face the Japanese onslaught twenty-four are shot down but they take a third of Nagumo's strike force with them.
It is now that Raymond Spruance takes his place in history. He correctly guesses the Japanese will launch a second strike against Midway. By now he has learned the position of two of the four Japanese carriers. Some on his air staff argue that it is too risky to attack without knowing the location of the other two enemy carriers. But Spruance, unlike his counterpart Yamamoto, does not vacillate. While conceding they do not know where the other two carriers are, he tells them they do have two definite targets 135 miles away--practically maximum range for the American planes. In the biggest gamble of his career he orders the Enterprise and Hornet turned into the wind and they launch everything but the kitchen sink into the air against the enemy. The head man on his air staff, Captain Miles Browning, known throughout the Navy as the man with the calculator brain, makes his computations and now tells Spruance they may have caught the enemy with his pants down for if the Japanese hold their present course and speed--which they must do until they recover their planes--the Americans stand a good chance of reaching the carriers when they are most vulnerable, with bombs on their decks and fuel lines running as they rearm and refuel.
The torpedo bombers from Task Force 16 arrive first and find all four Japanese carriers sailing in a box formation and doing just as Browning predicted. Although the attack is supposed to be coordinated with the fighters and dive bombers they are nowhere to be seen. The Americans must attack regardless. Under such conditions they know it is probably tantamount to a suicide attack. It was. In come fifteen Devastator torpedo bombers from the Hornet. Every last one of them is shot down. Next come fourteen more from the Enterprise and ten of these are knocked out of the sky. Twelve more from the Yorktown appear and eight of them are sent careening into the sea. Not one Japanese ship is touched. The forty-one slow Devastators attacking without fighter cover are no match for the Japanese Zeroes and anti-aircraft fire. For a few sweet moments it seems to Nagumo that he has won the war for Japan.
But the ill-fated attacks by the Devastators have not been in vain for they succeed in breaking up the Japanese formation and bringing down its fighter umbrella leaving the sky clear at precisely the moment thirty-seven of the peerless Dauntless dive bombers arrive on the scene led by Lieutenant Commander Clarence McClusky from that favorite of the Fates, the USS Enterprise. In six minutes they change the course of the Pacific war. Like the Devastators, McClusky has no fighter protection. He has been flying for an hour and a half and has seen only empty ocean. His fuel supply is running low but he has decided to continue the search. A half an hour before he had spied a Japanese destroyer racing northeastward like a bat out of hell and decided to follow it. At almost the same moment, Lieutenant James Gray, leading a fighter squadron, broke radio silence to report he had found the Japanese carriers. This gave Spruance and Fletcher their first hard news about the main enemy fleet.
Now McClusky hears the voice of Miles Browning bellowing, "Attack! Attack!" over the radio phone. McClusky replies, "God damn it, I will as soon as I find the bastards!" He does and soon. McClusky leads half his Dauntlesses down on the carrier Kaga while Lieutenant (J.G.) Earl Gallaher takes the other half hurtling down on the carrier Akagi. The Akagi, Nagumo's flagship, takes hits from two one thousand pound bombs, one on the flight deck causing huge explosions amid forty refueling planes, the other bores into the hangar below causing the torpedo magazine to blow up. For the rest of the day the Japanese mount a desperate effort to save the ship but at 7:15 that evening they are forced to abandon her. Meanwhile the Kaga is hit four times, turning the carrier into an inferno within seconds. It is now that seventeen Dauntlesses from the Yorktown, led by Max Leslie, join the fight and scream down on the carrier Soryu, leaving her a crippled wreck. Later that evening the submarine Nautilus, despite heavy depth charging by Japanese destroyers, pumps three torpedoes into the Soryu and finishes her off.
The shaken Nagumo has been forced to transfer his flag to the cruiser Agar where later on he has the small satisfaction of hearing the American carrier Yorktown has been found and sunk. But while the Japanese bombers are breaking through the Yorktown's AA defenses, twenty-four Dauntlesses, led by the formidable Gallaher, find the lone remaining Japanese carrier, the Hiryu, fall upon her and send her to the bottom.
In the end Midway is an American victory of titanic dimensions. In one fell swoop the Japanese have lost the initiative in the Pacific, never to regain it. From this moment on it is the Americans who will call the tune. The United States Navy has paid the first installment back to the Japanese for the debt of Pearl Harbor.
Melinda awoke to the sound of a knock at the front door. Ever so carefully she removed Janice's arm from around her waist and sat up. Putting on her glasses, she checked the clock. It was 7:20 AM. Eight hours behind, in the black Pacific night, Admiral Yamamoto was telling his men that he was the only one that needed to apologize to the Emperor for their failure, Jack Fletcher was signaling Spruance, "Ya did good," and Chester W. Nimitz, by recognizing the rare opportunity presented to him and risking everything in order to see it through to victory, had already emerged as the greatest naval leader of the Second World War.
But Mel, totally oblivious to the momentous events that had occurred six thousand miles away, was concerned only with who in the world could be beating on her door at this hour of the morning. Now she sleepily threw on her robe and made her way to the front door. There she saw two burly men on her steps.
"You Melinda Pappas?" the one with the huge cigar clinched between his teeth asked.
When she answered in the affirmative the men departed from her and went back to their truck which was parked in front of the house. The back of the truck was covered by a large tarpaulin so she could not see what they were doing but she heard several loud thumping noises as if something heavy were being moved around. It was now that Mel decided she ought to wake up Janice but, to her surprise, when she returned to the bedroom Janice was gone.
She checked the kitchen. "Jan? Where are you?"
Again, no answer. After wondering for a few moments about what was going on she returned to the front door in time to see the burly men emerge from the back of the truck with a long, narrow crate.
"Uh excuse me but jes' what have yuh got in there?" she asked the men. "And where did it come from?"
"Relax, lady, it's been paid for. Besides we're not supposed to say," the man with the cigar replied. "It's a surprise."
"A sur--" Mel now remembered. Today was her birthday.
From behind her she heard Janice's voice. "Right this way with it, boys."
Mel whirled and faced her lover. "Jan, what's going on here? What is that thing they're taking to the bedroom?"
"Gee, Mel, I don't know," Janice said with mock innocence. "I guess we'll just have to wait and see now won't we?"
After depositing their load in the bedroom the returned to their truck twice more to retrieve smaller crates. Melinda put on a pot and then joined Janice at the kitchen table. During the next torturously slow thirty minutes she heard various thumping and squeaking noises come from the bedroom. Every now and then she heard one of the men speak. All this time Janice just sat there at the table grinning like the cat that ate the canary. Despite repeated pleas from Mel she was totally mum about what the men were up to. Finally with a pouty frown Mel cried, "Golly, Jan, this is killin' me! Pleease! Tell me what it is."
The sight of her companion in so much distress mellowed Janice's resolve just enough., "All right, damn it, come on."
Before Melinda could reply one of the men stuck his head through the kitchen door and said, "Miss Covington? It's ready."
"Thanks, Charlie," Janice said.
Mel looked at her quizzically. "Charlie? Yuh mean you know him?"
"Just his name, that's all," smiled Janice. "Now let's go view their handiwork, hmmm?"
By now the men were piling the empty crates into the back of their truck and were preparing to leave. Janice escorted Melinda to the bedroom door and turned the knob for her. "After you M'lady."
Mel stepped inside and there before her eyes was the most beautiful canopy bed she had ever seen. It was a genuine antique and the overhead was made of pure lace. In the corner she saw a chest made of the same matching cherry. It was something straight out of "Gone With the Wind," and Melinda could not help but well up over her lover's thoughtfulness. It was...home.
"Don't you like it?" Janice asked anxiously, seeing her tears.
"Ohhh, Jan, it's lovely."
Janice had thought she would. The bed and chest had set her back nearly four hundred bucks but it was now worth every last penny just to see her Melinda so happy. "Happy birthday, Kid," Janice said softly.
The two lovers' lips met and for the longest time they stood there entwined in the loving embrace first shared by their souls some thirty centuries before.
There would, however, be no sleeping in her wonderful new bed for Mel this night for at exactly 5:30 that evening they received a phone call informing them that a freighter named the Northern Cross, bound for New Zealand, was sailing from Baltimore that very evening and arrangements had been made for the two women to be on it. After hastily securing transportation to the Baltimore docks they met with the master of the ship, Captain Phillips, and were soon squared away in their own cabin below decks. Just before midnight the Northern Cross slipped her moorings and by morning was lumbering her way down the Eastern seaboard at a steady twelve knots.
A few days later they rounded the western tip of Cuba and as they passed through the Yucatan Channel on course for the Panama Canal, they learned of their nation's great victory at Midway. Janice celebrated the news by knocking back a couple of shots of "medicinal" bourbon one of the crewmen had sneaked on board--much to Mel's dismay. So far the trip had been uneventful although they were well aware of all the recent activity by German submarines in the area. There only bit of trouble so far had been when they ran into a storm off the Mosquito Coast. Dangerously close to being overloaded, the Northern Cross, never a graceful ship, lay down and wallowed like a sick dog in the heavy seas. For the next six hours Captain Phillips had to call on all his considerable skill to keep the Northern Cross from being swamped.
For their part Janice and Mel rode out the storm well enough. Although Janice was sometimes given to violent fits of motion sickness, particularly on airplanes, she found herself able to cope with the rolling ship surprisingly well this time around. As for Melinda, well her biggest concern was the storm made it impossible for her to finish the copy of Paul Herman Buck's "The Road to Reunion" she had brought along. In exasperation she tucked the book under her pillow and turned off her light. "I'll finish it tomorrow night," she assured herself. But twenty-four hours hence Melinda Pappas would be in a fight her life.
For Kapitanleutenant Ernst Beck it had been a most satisfying mission. Operating from his patrol area in the western Caribbean he and the crew of the U-141 had succeeded in sinking no less than four merchant ships so far. Now with only two torpedoes left he had deliberately ordered his lookouts to ignore any ships riding high in the water and look for something heavily laden. In four days the U-141 was due to be relieved by another unterseeboot and Beck was becoming anxious to find a suitable target before then.
At last on the evening of June 9th, while running submerged, Beck's second in command rapped on the portal of his tiny compartment. "Kapitan?"
"We've got ourselves a nice fat one."
Beck leaped to his feet and made his way up to the conning tower. There he took off his hat and, peering into the periscope, got his first look at their latest target. It was the Northern Cross.
"What luck!" Beck exclaimed.
"Yes, Kapitan," said Remer. "We have plotted her course and I estimate the next leg of her zig-zag will bring her to within seven hundred meters of our position. Shall we surface and attack?"
"Nein," said Beck. "We'll let the fly come to the spider. Down periscope!" As the bosun hit the switch lowering the instrument Beck grinned at Remer. "It's about time we got ourselves an easy one, Walter. Come right to zero eight seven degrees."
"Right to zero eight seven degrees," the helmsman echoed.
Janice stood on the deck of the Northern Cross and looked out over the now calm waters of the Caribbean. The sun was already turning orange in the western sky and soon she and Melinda would be forced to go below for Captain Phillips did not allow them on top after dark.
"Oh my, isn't it lovely, Jan?" Melinda asked dreamily.
"The sun I mean," she explained. "See how it creates that long, shimmering, reflection on the water? Every time I see that it reminds me of some sort of pathway to the sky."
"Kind of like your own yellow brick road huh? Any Munchkins up there, Mel?" Janice teased.
"I declare, Janice," said Mel, a little irritated. "Don't cha ever allow yourself any whimsy?"
"Never," replied Janice truthfully. "I prefer to take life as it is and not waste my time dreaming."
Mel knew this to be all too true. For all Janice's wit and intelligence Mel had never once seen her read a book. She would not go to movies, she never listened to any of the myriad of entertaining programs on the radio--Janice Covington refused to even read the comics in the newspaper! For someone as in love with the aesthetics of life as Mel, she found Janice's stubborn refusal to enjoy anything except music a little sad.
Well, she thought resolutely, we'll just have to work on that.
Fifteen minutes later........
Beck crouched down to meet the eyepiece on its way up. "Bearing....mark!"
"Zero three zero degrees, Kapitan."
"Nine hundred meters."
"Open outer doors on tubes one and two," Beck ordered.
"Tube doors open, Kapitan."
Beck turned the periscope slightly to his right and increased magnification. "She's dead on. Final bearing....mark!"
"Zero three six."
"Eight hundred and fifty meters," Remer answered. "Kapitan, the firing solution is accurate. No correction necessary."
"Very well. Flood tubes one and two," said Beck.
"Tubes flooded, Kapitan."
Remer reached into a drawer under the plotting table and took out his stopwatch.
"Eight hundred meters."
Beck edged still closer to the periscope and caressed it like an old familiar lover. This was the moment he lived for. "Torpedo number one....los!"
The U-141 bucked slightly as the tremendous air pressure inside the torpedo tube was released into the open sea.
"Torpedo los, Kapitan!"
"Torpedo number two....los!"
Again the boat bucked.
"Torpedoes running straight and normal, sir," the soundman announced.
"Down periscope!" barked Beck. "Remer, running time to target...."
"Have yuh given it any thought as tuh how we're gonna sneak into Price's camp?"
"We're not going to sneak in, Mel," replied Janice.
"Nope. We are going to walk straight in and offer our services to the rat."
"But, Jan, don't you think that's kinda...dangerous?"
Remer once again checked his stopwatch. "Ten seconds to impact, Kapitan. Seven
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained I always say, Kid. I--"
From off to the women's left a terrified voice screamed out, "Torpedoes!"
Janice just managed to turn halfway toward him before first one, then another, huge
explosion rocked the ship. At the exact spot where the unfortunate seaman had been
standing two large plumes of water rose forth from the sea and swept over the railing.
"Two hits!" cried the U-141's sound man.
"Up periscope!" barked Beck.
Janice and Melinda were near enough to the blast that the concussion knocked both of them off their feet. The first explosion swept Mel's legs out from under her and the second sent her rolling violently into the bulkhead. There she banged her left elbow hard against the cold steel and the resulting pain had an almost electric quality to it. However this was nothing compared to what befell her lover.
When the first torpedo struck Janice's thoughts had naturally turned to protecting Melinda but the blast caused her to lose her balance and the second slammed her forehead first into the bulkhead, rendering her unconscious. Melinda just managed to gain her bearings only to see Janice crumple to the deck like a limp rag doll.
"Jan!" she screamed.
"Your aim was perfect, Kapitan," said an admiring Remer as he looked through the periscope. "Dead amidships." Remer had seen enough of these by now to know the ship was doomed. Fires had broken out on board her and already the heavily laden ship was starting to list.
"Do we surface and finish her with the deck gun?" Remer asked, relinquishing the periscope to Beck.
"No. Not yet." Beck checked his watch. "It will be dark soon. Less chance of a patrol plane spotting us then. We'll wait."
"Very good, Kapitan."
Beck's two torpedoes had struck the engine room on the starboard side, tearing a great gash into the hull of the Northern Cross. Already most of the men inside the compartment were dead. Just as Melinda was able to struggle to her feet one of the ship's huge boilers ruptured and went off like a bomb. Mel was thrown back and, to her horror, saw the shock waves sweep Janice's inert body over the side as if some unseen hand was at work.
"Janiiiiiiice!!" Melinda screamed so loudly her throat burned. As she rushed to the railing where Janice had gone over she kicked off her low cut shoes. Then pausing only to take off her glasses and tuck them inside the cup of her bra, she leaped into the warm water. She did not think of the possibility of being swept under the ship. She did not consider there might be sharks lurking in the water nor did she worry about how long she might be able to stay up in the water without a flotation device. None of that mattered now to the quiet Southern belle with the knack for ancient languages. All she knew was Janice--her beloved Jan--needed her. Protect the little one.
Melinda hit the water exactly ten seconds after Janice. She swam the ten feet to where she had seen Janice go under and, taking a deep breath, dove down after her.
On land Melinda Pappas was known as a klutz. Ever conscious of this, the sweet woman was sometimes guilty of trying too hard to atone for her "accidents" and would very often make matters worse. Those that knew her well would merely shake their heads good naturedly and say, "That's Mel for ya," but to her it was forever a cause of consternation. She hated being that way! Perhaps that was why she liked the water so well. For in the water Mel Pappas was no klutz. In the water clumsy Mel Pappas, dubbed "Oopsie," by her friends, was Melinda Pappas-- two time conference champion in the 100 and 400 meter freestyle races. She was Melinda Pappas, the intimidating swimmer that was undefeated her last two years in college, she was Melinda Pappas, absolute cinch to make the 1940 United States Olympic team--had there been one. To say she swam like a fish would be giving the fish the benefit of the doubt.
Janice was about five feet under when Mel's strong hand caught her by the collar and hoisted her to the surface. On board the Northern Cross another explosion rocked the ship and Mel knew it was imperative they put some distance between themselves and the ship. She pulled Janice's head back and tucked the woman's chin into her aching elbow. With the powerful stroke of someone long practiced she began to pull Janice away from the ship. The Northern Cross was now listing so badly Melinda was certain it would capsize at any moment but somehow the doomed ship hung on. Every so often she saw a crewman make his way to the railing and leap into the sea. In her heart she knew she ought to be seeing more.
Once safely back Mel for the first time began to take stock of their situation. Janice was hurt, how badly she had no idea but thankfully the woman seemed to breathing all right. It was a certainty the ship was going to go down and in a very short time the sun would be setting. How far they were from land Mel could only guess. Silently she hoped the radio operator had been able to get off an SOS in time. As to how long she might be able to keep Janice afloat--well she didn't want to think about that now.
Thirty minutes later the only light was from the faint glow of sunset and the raging fires on the somehow still-afloat Northern Cross. As Mel watched the last light of day fade away she heard a loud rushing sound off to her left. Her elbow still under Janice's chin, she cocked her head around and saw a large, dark apparition break the surface of the water no more than fifty yards away. At first the near-sighted Mel thought it might be a whale but then, in the glow of the burning ship, she saw even without her glasses the large white numbers 141 on its side.
"Oh my God!" she whispered. "It's a sub!"
She could see men climbing to lookout positions above the conning tower and more were popping up through a hatch in the front and running toward what she perceived to be some sort of gun. Their voices carried easily over the calm water and she knew well enough what language they were speaking--German. For a split second Mel contemplated calling out for help. However she remembered the stories she had heard about German submarines machine gunning helpless victims in the water so she kept her mouth shut. In her heart she really didn't want to believe those stories but who knew for sure? It seemed people were capable of anything these days. Melinda watched as the gun crew fired five rounds into the stricken vessel. After the fifth round struck the Northern Cross she shuddered one last time and rolled over. Melinda heard the men on the sub give out a loud cheer.
Then she heard some sort of horn sound and immediately the men began to reenter the submarine. She fully expected it to submerge again but the U-141 needed to recharge its batteries. Safe now under the cover of twilight, it fired up its diesel engines and turned northeast. Soon it vanished into the gloom.
Mel and Janice were now totally alone. As the last light of the burning ship waned, Melinda Pappas, now beginning to tire, did something she had not done in a very long time--she prayed. "Lord, I know you think I'm jes' another one prayin' to you only when they want something. I know I was never a big one for goin' to church like Momma but what I'm about to ask you is not for me--I want you to know that. Please, God. Please don't let Janice die. If you have to take one of us... I'd rather it be me, not her. I love her..." The water lapped into Mel's mouth and she had to pause to spit it out. "The way I see it yuh haven't given her too many breaks up till now so maybe you owe her one, huh? She deserves better. She has a right to live. If ya feel what we have is wrong and you want to punish somebody, punish me. But please, God...let Jan live."
No sooner were the words out when she felt something bump her from behind. Without her glasses on Melinda for one terrifying moment took the gray object to be a shark but then, to her relief, saw it was an empty life raft. It was at this precise moment the Northern Cross finally gave up the ghost and slipped under the waves. Summoning forth the amazing strength she carried deep within her, Mel hoisted Janice up into the four foot by six foot raft. After pausing to take a deep breath, she positioned the palms of her hands on the side of the raft and pushed down hard. This propelled her up and she landed tummy first on the side of the raft. She then swung her leg up and over and simply rolled into the raft.
The bottom of the raft was of the design that allowed a certain amount of sea water to seep into the bottom to maintain ballast so the first thing Mel did was to pull Janice's head up to where it safely rested on the side of the raft. Although it was now totally dark Mel reached into her bra and took out her glasses. In the blackness she could hear the faint sounds of men crying out off in the distance. She could only hope they would be all right.
Mel bent over and put her ear to Janice's chest. To her the archaeologist's breathing seemed strong and regular and she wondered why Janice did not awaken. She had been unconscious almost an hour now. Tired, hurt, only now beginning to realize how frightened she was, Melinda Pappas curled up next to the petite woman she loved more than life itself and lay her weary head on her chest. "Jan, please be all right."
She lay there for a considerable amount of time before raising back up. It was totally dark now except for a few stars peeking through the gathering clouds. A storm is the last thing we need now, she thought. The only sound to be heard was the gentle lapping of the water against the side of the raft. Where all all the others? she wondered, remembering the cries she had heard before. Now there was nothing. >From time to time she leaned down close to Janice, hoping to catch some sign that she might be coming around but there was nothing except the gentle sound of her breathing.
As the night oozed by Mel began to feel her frustration over their predicament build. After all, these were the times when Janice was the one who was supposed to rise up and take charge, to be their rock. Janice had always seemed so indestructible and it was more than a little unnerving for the belle to see her lover so helpless. "Darn it, Jan," she whispered helplessly.
At last Mel's eyelids began to droop and, try as she might, she found it impossible to
stay awake any longer. Well I'll just rest a minute, she thought. Within seconds, however,
she was fast asleep and thus missed hearing Janice murmur, "Meeeel."
The PBY banked slowly to the east and began a new search pattern. The plane had taken off well before dawn from its base at Cristobal in the Canal Zone in order to be over the last position given by the Northern Cross in its SOS of the night before. So far they seen nothing, not a life boat, not a body, not even a goddamn sea gull. This particular PBY, the MaryD (So named for a first rate Australian gal its had almost married before the war.) had been one of last planes ordered out of the Philippines before they were overrun. In late April they had been transferred to the Panama Canal Zone to conduct submarine patrol and to perform air search and rescue.
The pilot was Lieutenant Merle Piloto, a thoughtful man from Miami, Florida who loved to read, and was by now an old hand at search and rescue operations. Of course being a pilot, he got a lot of ribbing from his buddies about his last name. His co-pilot, an enthusiastic young fellow with the unusual name of Xavier Charles Crismore from Albuquerque, New Mexico was said to have one of the sharpest pair of eyes in the Navy. X.C. Crismore, known as "Windy" because of his penchant for long, round-about (And sometimes even truthful.) accounts of his encounters with members of the opposite sex, had proven himself able to spot objects floating in the water over great distances. Now "Windy" Crismore, binoculars glued to those remarkable eyes, was scanning the ocean in hopes of finding somebody--anybody from the Northern Cross alive.
For the first time since they reached the search area, Piloto spoke--all of three words. "See anything, Windy?"
Ensign Crismore grunted in the negative and continued his sweep.
"Fuck!" Piloto swore under his breath.
Janice awoke to what she thought was the drone of a giant bumblebee. The pain inside
her head was worse than any five hangovers she might have had. "Ohh," she
groaned. For a moment she had difficulty discerning just where she was. She had the
distinct sensation her ass was wet. Blinking the film from her still not completely
focused eyes, she now became aware of Mel's head on her chest. And then she remembered.
She remembered the explosions on the ship, she remembered wondering in panic where Mel
was, she remembered everything going black and then vaguely hearing a soft voice plead to
an unseen entity to spare her friend's life. She remembered a strong hand hoisting her out
of the water and into--this raft, she guessed. And she remembered feebly fingering the
long, black, and very wet hair of the head resting wearily on her chest. The realization
came to her--Mel had saved her life.
"I think I saw something, Merle!"
"Where, damn it?" Piloto demanded.
Crismore dared not remove his big twenty power binoculars from his search area. Instead he kept them trained where they were and pointed in the general direction. "Over that way."
"Hang on, Windy." Piloto banked the big Catalina hard to the right. Once the plane's turn was straightened out he activated the internal microphone situated by his throat. "Williams! Get ready. We might have some customers soon."
"Aye aye, lieutenant," a voice crackled in Piloto's headset.
In the rear of the plane Seaman First Class Ted Williams sat down by the starboard blister hatch and made ready with his long boat hook.
"Damn it, Windy, are you sure? I still don't see a friggin' thing."
"I tell ya I saw something," Crismore insisted.
"Okay," said Piloto. "Let's go down for a closer look." He pushed forward on the wheel and eased the PBY down until it was no more than a thousand feet above the water.
"There!" Crismore cried.
About a thousand yards dead ahead Piloto could now see a dirty white object bobbing in the water. "You think it's a raft, Windy?"
"You bet your ass it is," replied Crismore.
Piloto pushed forward on the wheel again until they were barely a hundred feet above
Janice sat up in the raft and ran a hand through her stringy hair. She sat there with Mel's head still in her lap and began to massage her temple. Her head was killing her. It was then she became aware that the droning sound she had heard before was back and getting louder. She turned in the direction of the sound and cast a bleary eye skyward.
"Mel!" she cried. "Mel, wake up!"
"Huh?" Melinda sat up and sleepily rubbed her eyes. "Jan? Oh God, Jan!" she erupted joyfully. "You're all right!"
"Yeah, Mel" Janice grinned, "I'm all right. How 'bout you? Are you..."
Melinda wrapped both arms around the woman and gave her a crushing bear hug. "Oh for goodness sakes! I'm fine. It's you that had me worried half tuh death," she sniffed.
Janice Covington knew well enough what Melinda had done for her. Though moved to the very depths of her soul by the thought that this woman had risked her own life for her she knew this was neither the time nor the place to express her gratitude. That would come later. "Jeez, Mel," Janice wheezed good naturedly, "You didn't save me from drowning only to smother me to death, didja?" Sometimes Mel Pappas did not know her own strength.
Mel sat back and smiled sheepishly. "I'm sorry, Jan. It's just that...it's just I was worried I might...lose--"
Before she could finish Janice reached up to her and gently wiped a tear from Mel's cheek. She then smiled warmly at the woman that was such a bundle of contradictions and said, "Kid, everything's gonna be all right. Look."
Mel turned to where Janice's outstretched arm was pointing and she saw a plane low in the sky heading straight for them. She saw the distinctive twin motors mounted close to the fuselage and instantly recognized it. "Oh my!" she gasped. "It's a--"
"Catalina!" yelled Janice, half laughing. "It's a Navy Catalina."
Twenty seconds later they saw the familiar big white star under the wing as the PBY
roared directly overhead, its big propellers kicking up wash all around them.
"Two of 'em," Crismore called out. "They look to be all right."
Piloto nodded and dipped his wing to assure those in the raft that they had been spotted. "We'll stay on this course for ten more minutes, then turn north," he said.
Crismore nodded and resumed his search.
"But where are they going?" Mel asked anxiously. "Golly, Jan, didn't
they see us?"
"Don't worry, they saw us," Janice assured her friend. "Right now they're going to continue to look for other survivors, that's all. They will be back for us."
Piloto and Crismore searched for another hour and managed to find six crewmen from the Northern Cross. Six men out of a crew of thirty. These they fished out of the water first because, unlike Janice and Mel, they had only their individual life preservers to keep them afloat.
While waiting for the PBY to return, Janice and Mel did not speak much. Each of them was aware of the grim probability that many of the crew from the Northern Cross would never be going home again. For her part Mel could simply not understand how supposedly "civilized" beings could stoop so low as to wage war on each other. My God, she thought, watching the PBY circle far to the northeast, here we are in the twentieth century and all our advances in technology seem to have done for us is make us that much more proficient at murdering one another. It was disheartening for one with such a gentle turn. Will we ever learn?
She thought of her brother, Robert. In his last letter to her he had proudly informed her of his promotion to first lieutenant. He was now in charge of a platoon--45 men who now looked to him, a twenty-three year old kid, for guidance. Mel could remember him as a boy being frightened out of his wits by the movie "Frankenstein" and now...now he was a sturdy young man training to lead other men into battle. On his last furlough he had given her a patch with a bright red bull's head on a black background. It was the insignia of the 34th Infantry, the Army's famed "Red Bull" division, and no one was more proud to be a member of it than Robert L. Pappas.
Melinda closed her eyes and thought of the boy with the unruly locks and the easy smile, the boy all the girls were crazy over. In contrast to the popular, out-going Robert who made friends almost at will, his sister had been very much the wallflower. Though liked well enough by her classmates and grudgingly admired for her intellect, Melinda Pappas simply could not overcome her painful shyness. People marveled that she and Robert could be siblings. So while Robert went to all the dances and had a date any time he wanted, Melinda stayed home with her sympathetic Momma and read Keats or James Joyce or just sat staring out her bedroom window.
On the rare occasion when she was asked out it invariably turned into a disaster. She wasn't much of a dancer. She was not good at small talk and if some boy had the audacity to try to kiss her...well, Melinda Pappas would almost break out into hives on the spot. Finally she just stopped trying. For a very long time she had wondered if there was something wrong with her. But now, after finding such bliss with Janice, she had reached the happy conclusion that the problem had not been with her, the problem had been with them!
Ironically the one that understood her pain most was Robert. He adored his older sister and hated to see her unhappy. Sometimes after he came home from an evening out he would stop by her room. He would tell her how boring it was and how she had really not missed a thing. Robert would see her smile bravely and he would rage at all the boys and all their excuses for not asking her out. You idiots! he would rail silently, Can't you see how beautiful Mel is? Can't you see how smart and kind and sweet she is? Sometimes he would glance about conspiratorially and whisper the latest naughty joke he had heard to her. Mel would blush and threaten to tell their Momma on him but she would laugh just the same. Always--always he could make her laugh.
While Mel's thoughts were of her dear brother, Janice's were along much darker lines. Having been one of life's survivors for so long now, she had already put last night's harrowing experience behind her. The ever pragmatic Janice was now turning over in her mind her plan for dealing with Price. That she and Melinda had lost all their possessions when the ship went down concerned her not in the least for safely tucked into the left front pocket of her trousers was an envelope containing the twenty now temporarily soggy one hundred dollar bills in expense money Donovan had left for them inside Price's file. She knew they would have no trouble at all procuring what they needed.
Janice Covington had the distinct feeling Price was up to no good. She had smelled a rat ever since Donovan first mentioned the subject of Price's dig were the Guaymi Indians. The autocratic Price usually considered the study of such obscure cultures to be beneath him. Why now all the sudden interest? she wondered. And who the hell would put up the money for such an endeavor with a war going on?
Janice's thoughts were interrupted by Mel's soft drawl. "Ja-yun? They're comin' back."
Janice watched as the PBY descended and nestled down on the surface of the water. Lieutenant Piloto cut back on the throttle and the plane slowed to a crawl on the calm sea. He then skillfully guided the big plane so close to the life raft all Williams had to do was reach out with his long boat hook and pull them in. When Williams got his first good look at the survivors in the raft he could not believe it.
"Jeez!" he exclaimed. "Miss Covington! Miss Pappas!"
"Hiya, Kid," said Janice warmly. "Long time no see."
"But wha--, how...?"
"It's a long story, Kid," Janice told him.
Melinda reached out and shook the hand of the young man they had first met some six months ago in the Philippines.
"Gosh you ladies sure do get around, don't cha?" remarked Williams, still somewhat stunned.
"Nah," said Janice. "This is our first time out of the country since we left you on Guam."
Their conversation was broken up when Ensign Crismore poked his head through the forward hatch. "Have ya got 'em, Williams?"
"Yes, Mister Crismore," replied Williams.
"Well get 'em squared away so we can get the hell out of here."
"Aye aye, sir." Williams smiled sheepishly at the two women. "I'm sorry, ladies," he said. "Lieutenant Piloto don't like to sit in the water too long. If you'll just--"
"We know the drill," said Janice, cutting him off.
"Yeah, I guess you do at that," Williams allowed. He pulled the clear bubble of the blister hatch shut and made his way to the forward hatch. "Okay, Mister Piloto, we're all set!"
No sooner had he spoken before Piloto gunned the throttle and the plane began to roar across the surface. Mel and Janice were seated on the floor of the plane-- knees up, backs against the fuselage. With them were the six other survivors from the Northern Cross.
"Is this it?" Janice asked Williams. "Is this all of us?"
"'Fraid so," said Williams. "There's another search plane comin' to relieve us but I don't think they are going to find anything. If Mister Crismore can't spot 'em, nobody can."
"Anybody see what happened to Captain Phillips?" Janice asked them. None of them had.
"I was too busy tryin' to save my own ass," one of them said bluntly. Who could blame him? Janice thought.
Once they were safely in the air Williams broke out a five gallon can of water and some little cans of a mysterious substance known as potted meat. "Sorry, ma'am," he said, opening one of the cans with his GI can opener and handing it to Mel. "It's all we've got on board. I'm afraid you'll have to eat it with your fingers."
"This is fine," Mel replied graciously. In truth she was hungry enough not to care what was in the can.
Williams opened another can and gave it to Janice.
"Hey! What about us?" rasped the man who had spoken before.
"Keep yer shirt on, Mac," growled Williams. Winking at Janice, he added, "On the MaryD it's ladies first."
Presently everyone had their can of "meat" and a paper cup full of water. Though genuinely sorry their shipmates were dead these men knew it was useless to dwell on their misfortune. It was much better to just try to deal with it as best they could.
Now Janice, who was long accustomed to going without food, took a couple of bites of the so called "meat" and decided she could wait until they landed.
"Aren't you goin' tuh eat that?" asked Melinda, watching Janice set her can on the floor of the plane. The belle had uncharacteristically wolfed down her share--and she was still hungry.
With an amused grin Janice picked up her nearly full can and handed it to her. "Here, be my guest," she said.
"You're sure?" asked Mel.
"Go on," Janice assured her. She watched the normally impeccably mannered Mel Pappas not only finish off the second can in nothing flat but suck her fingers clean when she was done. "Say uh, Mel?"
"Do ya think Emily Post would approve of that?"
"She probably would if she was as hungry as I was."
Janice had to admit she was probably right. "You keep this up," Janice teased her, "and before you know it you'll be just like me."
Melinda looked her straight in the eye and in all seriousness whispered, "Janice Covington, I wish I were more like you."
Well I'm glad you're not, thought Janice, because I think you're perfect just as you are.
It was just after 1700 hours when the PBY touched down at Cristobal, Panama. After bidding farewell to their friend Williams and thanking the two pilots of the MaryD, Janice and Mel and the six other survivors were hustled off to the infirmary where, except for a sailor who had suffered a broken hand, they were pronounced none the worse for wear and released. Upon noticing Melinda was without shoes, one of the nurses scrounged around in her locker and came up with a decent pair of deck shoes for her to wear.
They were then individually interrogated about the attack by a Navy lieutenant commander. While Janice was the first to be questioned Melinda was the very last so she was forced to wait impatiently almost an hour and a half for her. She did, however manage to phone the number Donovan had given her and inform them what had happened. By the time Mel rejoined her it was beginning to get dark.
"So what do we do now, Jan.?" Mel asked.
"Well like I told that guy in there, since the Canal Zone was our intended destination anyway we're going to proceed as planned."
"Now that you mention it," said Mel, squinting her eyes, "that Commander Lewis fella sure seemed awfully interested in knowing what we were doin' down here didn't he?"
This seemingly innocent remark made Janice uneasy. Lewis had not brought that subject up at all during her fifteen minutes with him. "What did you tell him, Mel?" she asked somewhat suspiciously. While she knew Melinda would never intentionally reveal their true purpose for being there Janice was nevertheless aware of her admirable but sometimes rather inconvenient penchant for telling the truth.
"Why, I told him the truth," replied Mel.
"I told him the truth," Mel repeated. "I told him you're an archaeologist and I'm your assistant and we're goin' to Costa Rica to do some work for the government."
"Ya did huh?" Janice grinned slyly at her companion. "You know, that was pret-ty sneaky."
With a drawl as thick as molasses, Mel said, "I don't know whut you're talkin' about, Ja-yun. Ah'm jes' a lil' gal from South Car-lina an' I don't know nothin' 'bout deceivin' folks."
"Yeah, surrre," chuckled Janice. "And I'm Scarlett O' Hara."
Janice took her by the arm. "Come on, 'lil' gal,'" she said, "let's find a
place to stay."
After making some inquiries the two of them found a decent looking hotel. Although technically in Panama, here in the Canal Zone they had no trouble finding locals who could speak English. Besides if push came to shove, Janice knew enough Spanish to get by. They entered the lobby and were observed with a disapproving eye by the desk clerk as they approached. He had taken one look at their stained, wrinkled clothes and their disheveled appearance and deemed them to be riff raff.
"We'd like a room," said Janice.
"I'm sorry," the man replied in very good English, "but I am afraid I cannot accommodate you."
"What the hell do you mean you can't 'accomodate' us?" Janice asked, baring her teeth in anger. "This is a hotel ain't it?"
"This is a reputable hotel," the clerk corrected her. "It is our policy not to allow those without luggage to check into this establishment."
"But we lost it!" Melinda protested.
"Then I suggest you go look for it, young lady," sniffed the clerk.
Janice had heard enough. "Look, you jerk," she snarled, "our stuff is lying on the bottom of the Caribbean about five hundred miles from here. Our ship took two torpedoes from a goddamn Kraut sub last night and she went down like a penny in piss. We spent sixteen hours in a fuckin' leaky ass life raft so I ain't exactly in the mood for this bullshit."
"Besides," she continued, running her hand into her pocket, "we've got all the luggage we need right here." She pulled out the tattered envelope containing the two thousand dollars in cash and slapped it on the counter. "I have a proposition for ya. What are your rates here?"
"Ten American dollars per night."
"Okaaay." Janice extracted one of the damp bills from the envelope and tore it in two. Handing one half to the clerk, she whispered loudly, "I tell ya what. I expect us to be here, oh, a couple of days at the most. How about, when the time comes for us to settle our bill, I give you the other half of old Ben Franklin here and you keep the change for yourself? Hmmm?"
The clerk cast a quick glance around to make sure no one was watching. "I suppose that would be...acceptable."
"I thought it might," said Janice, pleased with her triumph. She folded the remaining bills up and jammed them into her pocket. "Well? Can we have a key now?"
"Oh, yes...of course." The clerk plucked a key off the rack. "You can have number twenty-four."
"Thank you so much," Janice said sweetly. She wadded up the envelope and shot it basketball-style dead center into the trash can at the end of the clerk's desk. Picking up the key, she said, "Come on, Mel. Let's see if we can wash some of this sea scum off. Oh by the way," she paused and turned to the clerk, "ya think you can get somebody to wash our clothes for us?"
"Of course," the clerk replied. "We have the finest service in Cristobal."
The two women made their way to the elevator. Janice took one peek at the ancient looking thing and decided to opt for the stairs. Once they were inside room number twenty-four she turned to Mel and said, "Go ahead. You can be first."
Mel nodded and headed for the bathroom. Upon opening the door she found the room to be very cramped. She stepped in and looked the tub over and noticed there was no shower head. Uh boy, she thought, Janice won't like this a little bit. The archaeologist much preferred a shower to taking a bath. Mel, on the other hand, just loved to leisurely soak in a tub of warm, sudsy water. Once she had the right mixture of hot and cold water running into the tub Mel gingerly set about stripping off her grimy, sweat stained clothes. Her loose trousers were easy enough but she ran into some difficulty when it came to removing her shirt. Her left elbow was hurting her very badly.
It was this moment when Janice chose to stick her head into the bathroom. "Mel I-- What the--?"
Melinda was standing there in her panties, feebly plucking at the shirt twisted half on, half off about her shoulders.
Quickly Janice went to her and straightened the shirt. "Is there something wrong?" she asked forcefully.
Melinda dreaded this. "Way-ul..."
"Answer me, damn it!"
With a timid half smile Mel said, "I uh, I seem to be havin' a little trouble getting my shirt off." Somehow she had managed to keep her injury from the doctor and she now feared Janice would give her hell for not telling him about it. She was right.
Mel pulled up the corners of her mouth into that endearing little smile of hers and said, "It's my elbow, I--"
"Why the hell didn't you tell the doctor?" Janice demanded, more worried than angry.
"I was afraid," Mel answered.
"Afraid? Of what?"
"I was afraid they might want to keep me over for observation," Mel explained. "I didn't want to slow us up."
Janice closed her eyes and sighed heavily. There was no use jumping down Mel's throat over this. She was only being loyal. "Which one?"
"Darn it, Mel. Which elbow?"
"Oh. Uh, it's this one," she said, lifting her left arm.
"Okay, let me help you," said Janice.
Janice carefully slipped the shirt off the woman's shoulder. "Bend your right arm," she ordered.
Mel obeyed and Janice eased the shirt past her elbow and off her arm. Once done it was a simple matter for her to finish the job. Janice tossed the shirt on the floor and inspected Mel's elbow. "God, Mel," she whispered. She saw considerable swelling and a nasty bruise on the woman's arm. Privately she wondered how Melinda managed to keep it from the doctor. The son of a bitch probably didn't even look her over, she thought.
"How'd you do this?" she asked Mel.
"I got thrown against the side of the ship like you did," Mel answered. "Against that big steel door."
Janice looked up into the eyes of the woman she loved so much. "Jesus, Mel," she said quietly. "You mean you were...you were hurt all that time we were in the water?"
"Tuh tell you the truth I didn't think much about it at the time," said Mel.
Janice smiled at her and said, "Mel Pappas, you always were a lousy liar." The smile faded and she moved in close to her. "There's nothing I can say to you that can even begin to express my gratitude."
"Aww, Jan, I--"
"This makes twice you've saved my butt. Thanks."
Melinda placed her index finger across Janice's lips. "Shhh. You don't have to say anything. You know that. I'm just thankful you--we--survived."
Janice cocked her head to one side and eyed Mel curiously. "By the way, where did you learn to swim like that?"
"I used to do some swimming in college," Mel replied. She then modestly added, "I wasn't too bad."
"I'll just bet," said Janice With that she bent over and turned off the water running into the tub. She then reached both arms around behind Mel. "Here let me help you with that." She undid Mel's bra and the thing dropped to the floor baring the lovely breasts Janice adored.
Mel's thank you was cut short when Janice stood up on her tiptoes and kissed her. Melinda leaned over to make it easier for the smaller woman and Janice rewarded her by tenderly stroking one of her nipples with the tip of her finger.
"Ohhh, Jan," Mel cooed. This time it was her turn to initiate a long and very passionate kiss.
At last Janice leaned back and blinked. "You know, you're getting pretty good at this."
"I have a good instructor," Mel answered with a devilish smile.
"You better take your bath before we get ah, ahem, sidetracked," said Janice. She picked up her love's clothes and made her way to the bathroom door. After getting a good whiff of Mel's things she wrinkled her nose. "Ugh! I can't wait to get under that shower."
"There is no shower. You'll have to use the tub."
"Now isn't that just fuckin' peachy?" Janice growled. In truth though she was not really upset. How could one get worked up over a little thing like that after what they had just gone through? Once outside Janice removed the wad of bills from her pocket, peeled off her own clothes and lumped them together with Melinda's in a heap by the door. A terse phone call resulted in a knock on their door. Janice thrust her arm through the cracked door and tossed the bundle into the arms of a startled bell boy.
An hour later the clothes were back and the two women were bathed, refreshed--and working over a couple of surprisingly good steaks.
When she had finished Mel stretched out her long legs and contentedly leaned back in her chair. "So what do we do tomorrow?" she asked.
Between bites Janice replied, "Well...the first thing we do is get some decent footwear. These soggy things of mine are starting to blister my feet. And those silly shoes of yours just won't do where we're going."
"I don't know," said Melinda, taking a peek at her low cut canvas shoes. "I kinda like 'em."
"Forget it, you're not wearing 'em," Janice declared.
"Okay okay," Mel sighed. It was pointless to argue with Janice once her mind was set and she knew it. "But let's try to find something lighter than those monstrosities I wore in Borneo. My calf muscles were sore for a month after that."
"Don't worry," said Janice, yawning, "we'll find something comfortable for ya."
About an hour later Melinda felt Mother Nature calling so she ambled off to the bathroom. When she returned Janice was still sitting in the arm chair but her arms were crossed and her head was tilted forward. She was fast asleep.
"Your poor thing," Mel said softly.
It had been quite a day for both of them. She touched Janice on the arm. "Janice? Jan."
"Come on, Jan, let's go to bed."
"Mmmm." Janice got to her feet and began to remove her garments. "I don't know why I'm so tired," she said.
Melinda took the smaller woman by the shoulders and guided her to the bed. "Here we are." She lay Janice down on the bed and with one quick tug pulled her trousers down off her slim waist. "Now in ya go, tough guy."
Without a word Janice crawled under the sheets. Mel dropped her pants and undid reluctantly undid a couple of buttons on her shirt. The heck with it, she decided. I'm not going through with that again. Leaving the shirt on, she clicked off the lamp and climbed into bed. By now it was automatic. Mel's buttocks no sooner hit the mattress when Janice snuggled up next to the taller woman and curled an arm around her waist.
"Good night, Janice," Mel whispered.
"Nnnnt," murmured Jan.
Lying there in the dark, Mel listened as her lover's breathing became deeper and more measured. It was clear the archaeologist was worn out. Often times Mel wondered where the petite Janice got all that energy. The woman never went half way in anything she did. Many was the time Mel had seen her put in fourteen to sixteen grueling hours at a dig, spend half the night working on her notes, sleep maybe four hours, and then tear into the next day like Joe Louis into Max Schmeling. Compared to some of those days Mel remembered them spending in the Andes Mountains during that memorable fall of '41 today had been a holiday. But somehow this was...different. Melinda guessed that knock on the head Janice had received probably had something to do with it. The truth be told, she wasn't feeling too peppy herself. Then again, it wasn't every day they got torpedoed.
She chuckled somewhat ruefully as she thought of whom "Wild Bill" Donovan had dispatched to find out what that Hitler's ass kisser Price was up to. Two shipwrecked women, one with a busted arm and the other with a cracked head, were all the assets Uncle Sam had to spare at the moment. Oh well, she thought, at least in the morning Jan will be as good as new. She always is. As for herself, well...whatever came she would not let Janice Covington down.
Janice stirred, breaking Mel's train of thought. The archaeologist gave a soft, almost whimpering sigh and murmured a couple of words Melinda could not make out. Then, as she often did, Janice nestled her head against Mel's shoulder. Mel craned her neck and gently kissed the woman of top of her head. Big, bad Janice, she thought. If only others were allowed to see the real you. But she knew that would never happen. Janice Covington would not tolerate any cracks in that hard bitten image she had so carefully cultivated over the years.
It was close to one o' clock before Mel was finally able to put aside all thoughts of Janice and their blossoming life together and drift off to sleep.
Just as Mel predicted, the next morning found Janice up early. She arose just after dawn and spent the better part of the next hour quietly sitting in the big easy chair dressed only in her panties and her long-tailed khaki shirt. She always loved this time of day. It was when she did her best thinking. This morning her mind happened to be tuned to one John Price and her plan for dealing with him.
In contrast Melinda was not a morning person. Even after all this time with the energetic Janice she still found it difficult to roll out of bed before seven thirty or so. As a result Janice usually didn't disturb her, even when they were on a dig. Ever pragmatic, she much preferred an alert and efficient late riser to a groggy and error prone early bird.
Today, however, was different. Janice rose from the chair and walked over to where Melinda still lay sleeping. Sorry, kid, she thought, but it's time. But first she leaned over and inspected Melinda's arm. To her relief the swelling seemed to have gone down some but she still worried about the ugly discoloration now encircling the entire elbow. It's a miracle she didn't break it, Janice thought. Again she marveled at how Mel had jumped into the water and not only rescued her but kept the both of them afloat for the better part of an hour--and all with more or less only one arm.
She knew Mel had a mostly untapped source of inner strength within her that bordered on the awesome and it somewhat perplexed her as to why the woman only seemed to be able to summon forth this raw power when it was Janice who was in danger. Of course she knew all about the ancient bond between them. The great Xena herself and told Janice just how much her own ancestor, Gabrielle, had meant to her. It still evoked wonderment when she thought about it. Two souls, irrevocably intertwined as one for more that three thousand years now, eternally finding each other again and again over the centuries. Did the two of them always find each other? Probably not. But she guessed that only made their reunion all the more sweet when they did. She thought of the current manifestation of this bond, her love for Mel. What we have is powerful enough, she thought, but my God; the love Xena and Gabrielle must have had for each other!
It had changed her way of thinking. Before Mel came along Janice had always prided herself on being practical, fiercely independent, on having both feet firmly planted on terra firma. Now she knew better. Now she knew there truly were more things in heaven and earth than were dreamt of in her philosophy.
She cast one last loving glance at the lovely woman sleeping so peacefully. She is
so beautiful! But made the tough, cynical Janice Covington's eyes well up was the
knowledge that this beauty was not just skin deep. Melinda Pappas was the finest person
she had ever known. She felt so fortunate. Even now, down deep, she still felt she didn't
really deserve her. Reluctantly she reached down and shook the raven haired woman's
shoulder. "Mel. Come on, it's time to get up.
Janice watched in amusement as Mel finished off her breakfast and downed the last of her orange juice. "Well I'm happy to see that bum arm of yours hasn't affected your appetite."
"Honestly, Jan," replied Mel between bites, "I don't see how you can get by like that with only a cup of coffee for breakfast."
With an impish smile Janice said, "I guess my little frame doesn't need as much fuel as all those muscles of yours." She grinned slyly and added, "Especially those two big chest muscles of yours."
"Janice Covington, you are an evil person and I simply don't know what it is I see in you." She reached out and touched Janice's hand and for a moment the two of them shared love's warm glow, totally oblivious to all the activity around them.
Finally Janice said, "Come on, we've got work to do."
Their first step was a shop down the street where they were fortunate enough to locate boots that met Janice's rigid standards. In particular she wanted the leather to be soft enough that it would not take too long to break them in. Once this was accomplished Janice made a beeline for the nearest pawn shop. There she bought a Smith & Wesson snub nosed .38 and a twenty round box of ammunition. As always this made Mel most uncomfortable. She hated guns. However she knew how much Janice disliked being unarmed so she kept quiet and looked over the surprisingly nice jewelry on display while Janice bargained with the broker.
"You drive a hard bargain, señorita," said the broker as he handed Janice back her change. "A few more customers like you and I shall starve."
"Stop it, you're breaking my heart," Janice retorted. "You and I both know you probably doubled your money on this."
The man broke into a faint smile and gave a barely imperceptible shrug of the shoulders. "What can I say? I have a wife and eight little niños to feed."
Janice tilted her head back slightly in a gesture of comprehension and began idly browsing around the shop.
"Is there something else I can help you with?" the man asked hopefully.
"Yeah. I need a pack of some kind," said Janice.
"You know, like a field pack or a haversack or something. Something tough, with a strap and some way to secure the flap," explained Janice.
The man looked down at the floor and scratched behind his ear. Then, as if struck by some sort of revelation, he raised on finger into the air and smiled. "One momento, please..." He quickly strode out from behind the counter and went into the back room of his shop. Janice and Mel looked at each other quizzically as they heard him rummaging about. Presently they heard a loud thud followed by a low muttering in incomprehensible Spanish. Janice allowed it was just as well they did not understand him because from the tone of his voice it sure sounded like cursing to her.
At last the man came out with an olive drab colored item and handed it to Janice. "It is all I could find," he said.
It was a gas mask pouch Janice saw--something a little smaller than what she really wanted but she figured what the hell. "Yeah, that'll do," she declared. She picked the Smith & Wesson up off the counter and dropped it and the box of ammo into the bag.
"Um, Jan?" By now Mel had wandered over to the far end of the shop and was staring up at a rack of some sort.
"What is it," asked Janice, joining her.
With a smile Janice thought somewhat queer Mel rolled her eyes up to the rack and said, "Looky." There on the rack was a hat identical to the one Janice always wore when in the field.
"It's my hat!" exclaimed the archaeologist, almost gleefully. "Hey you!" she called out to the broker.
"Lemme see that hat up there."
The man looked at her oddly but complied. What does she want with a hat like that? he wondered. First a gun and now a man's hat...the broker by now had come to the conclusion this one must be muy loco.
Janice took the hat and immediately checked the size. It was a quarter inch larger than her own size but then again her hair was longer than usual so she sort of figured that would provide some compensation.
"Go on, Janice, try it on," Mel urged.
Janice put the hat on. Oh yeah, she thought, this is more like it. "I'll take it," she announced.
After paying him for the hat and the pouch Janice, with Mel in tow, stepped outside and looked up the street.
"Now what?" Mel asked.
Janice turned to her and put the palm of her hand on Mel's shoulder. "Mel, I've got something I need to do." Then with obvious reluctance she added, "Why don't you to go back to the hotel and wait for me, okay?"
Melinda was stunned. Never before had Janice made such a suggestion."But....Jaaa-yun! Where are you going?"
The crestfallen look on Mel's face was one that plucked at Janice's heart strings but the archaeologist had made up her mind. "Can't say for sure," she said evenly, "but where I have to go the company is not going to be very polite and I will feel a lot better knowing you are some place safe."
All Melinda could do was softly repeat, "But, Jan?" It was not a whine nor was it a whimper, just a simple appeal from a concerned lover not to be left behind. After a couple of extremely uncomfortable moments Mel added, "Janice, no matter where I am I always feel safest when I'm with you."
What a sweet thing to say, Janice thought. She's saved my butt twice now and here she is telling me she feels safest when I'm around. For a millisecond she almost relented. Almost. No, she decided. She's not going. "Mel, please," she said with a soft sigh, "I don't want to butt heads with you over this, okay? I'll be back soon. I promise."
Why is she doing this? Mel wondered dejectedly. Doesn't she trust me?
Almost as if reading her mind Janice said, "It's not that I think you'd be in the way or anything but I really should do this alone. You understand, don't cha?"
"No," Mel replied frankly. "No I don't understand. But...I'll, I'll do what you want. I'll wait."
"Atta girl," said Janice, squeezing Mel's arm.
"Now you won't be long, will you?"
"I'll be back before you even know I'm gone," Janice assured her.
"Well all right. But be careful, Jan."
"Careful is my middle name. And, Mel?"
"I'll make this up to ya. I swear."
"I should say you will," Mel said, smiling suggestively.
"Uhh boy," grinned Janice, with mock trepidation. "Just remember, you're bigger and stronger than me."
"Ah reckon you'll survive all right," Mel replied.
Janice winked at her and slung the pouch. After looking around to make sure they were not being watched she ran her hand into her pocket and took out their money. Handing it to Mel she said, "Hang on to this--and don't let anybody see it, understand?"
"Stick close to the hotel," Janice cautioned her. "I don't want you assing around and getting lost."
"I will," promised Mel.
Janice folded up the hundred dollars she had kept for herself and stuck it in her shirt pocket. Buttoning the flap she said, "Good. I'll see you around three o' clock if all goes well."
Melinda watched the smaller woman turn and make her way up the street. She wistfully stood there watching her until she had disappeared into the crowd.
Janice knew securing overland transportation to Costa Rica would be difficult. The limited amount of gasoline now available to the civilian populace was bound to be having an adverse effect on travel. And as always whenever shortages occur, it is those that abide by the law that suffer most. Therefore Janice knew she needed to find someone who, well, was not quite so concerned with the niceties of the law...in other words, a crook.
After a long morning of making discreet inquiries supplemented by the judicious use of a few sawbucks, Janice at last learned that one Miguel Guevara, a local smuggler, black marketeer, and all around bad egg, might be willing to do business with her. After learning where Señor Guevara, also known as "Oso" or bear, might be found Janice went straight there.
Janice found Guevara sitting behind his "desk"--an old door laid flat across some crates. At first Guevara was what could mildly be described as uncooperative. In fact he was downright insulted. How dare this measly little gringo just prance in here like she owns the place!
"Are you Miguel Guevara?" asked Janice.
The burly man grinned slyly. "No habla inglés."
Janice now found herself in the company of three other well armed men.
I'll just teach this one a lesson, Guevara smugly told himself. However, to his complete surprise, it would be Janice Covington who would be conducting class on this day.
"I'm gonna ask you once more," said Janice. "Can you help me or not?"
"No comprende," sneered Guevara.
"Don't give me that bullshit," growled Janice. "A guy doesn't get to be the primero around here without knowing a few good old Americanisms."
"You are mistaken," said Guevara, finally dropping his act. "I am but a simple businessman."
"Listen, Palooka Joe, I didn't just fall off the fuckin' banana boat you know. So let's cut the crap okay? You say you're a businessman, well all right. Let's do some business--or are you too chickenshit to deal with a woman?"
"Get her out of here!" Guevara shouted in Spanish. The three men, up till now loitering by the door, stepped into the room. Now they began to rue the fact they had not bothered to search the little woman for anticipating this very scenario Janice stepped back and pulled her .38 out of the pouch. They froze in their tracks when Janice turned and pointed the gun directly at Guevara's nose.
"You've got five seconds to tell the Three Stooges here to take a hike," she announced calmly.
"And if I refuse?"
Janice pulled back the hammer on the .38 and replied, "Then that big schnozz of yours gets a third nostril."
"Manuel! Felipe! Vamanos!" The men who were by now staring open-mouthed at this little she-devil meekly obeyed and withdrew without as much as a grumble.
After they had departed Janice eased the hammer on the .38 back down and positioned one cheek of her buttocks on Guevara's makeshift desk.
"Stupidos!" scowled Guevara. "They should have searched you." He then grinned up at the fine looking American woman. "You know, not many would have the nerve to talk to me like that. You have ah, what is it they call it in your country? Balls?"
"Not here," replied Janice with a grin. "Besides you don't get very far in this world by bein' a candy ass now do ya?" She stuck the .38 back in the pouch but Guevara noted she kept it on her lap within easy reach.
He leaned back in his ancient swivel chair and took a cigar out of his shirt pocket.
"Ya got another one of those?" asked Janice.
Guevara eyed her with some amusement and taking out another one, tossed it on the table. "Be my guest." He lit his cigar and then leisurely propped his feet up on his desk. "So now," he asked, tossing the brand new Zippo lighter to her, "how can I be of assistance?"
Janice lit her cigar and slid the lighter back across the table. Before answering him she took a long, luxurious puff and slowly blew the smoke up in the air. Damn! she thought, I'd forgotten just how much I like these. Janice's cigars had been the normally amenable Mel's number one peeve. For the better part of a year she had harped practically every single day to Janice about the evils of tobacco. At first Janice had been somewhat resentful of it, then as she grew to like the Southerner more merely annoyed, then downright defensive. But it was only after she and Melinda became lovers that Janice had said "Aww what the hell," and given them up for good.
Clinching the cigar in her teeth, Janice nonchalantly said, "I understand you might be making a run into Costa Rica tonight."
Guevara's feet slid off the table and he bolted up out of his chair. "You devil! How do you know such things?" he demanded.
Janice eyed him casually and blew a puff of smoke toward him. "I didn't for sure...until now."
It was then Guevara knew he'd been had. A huge grin slowly broke across his pock marked face and he sat back down in his chair. The woman had set him up. He knew that now. "Hoooo, ho ho ho." His guttural laugh was completely without mirth but it did hint of respect. "I like you, mi amigo. All right so what if I am ah, working tonight? What is this to you?"
"I want you to take me along," she answered.
"Impossible!" Guevara then muttered a few words in Spanish. Janice could not be certain but she thought it was an invitation for her to kiss a certain part of his anatomy.
Calmly she stood up, placed both palms down on the table and leaned forward. In a low tone she said, "Come on, be a pal. I have to be in Costa Rica PDQ."
"NO!" But already he was mentally calculating just how much he could squeeze out of the woman. While he had in fact been doing rather well lately, there was always room in his pocket for a few more greenbacks. Especially if they just waltzed in own their own like this.
"Not even for three hundred smackers?" Janice asked.
Guevara closed one eye to a squint and leered up at her. "How do I know you are not working for the army?"
With her cigar still clenched in her teeth Janice said, "I think the army's got a lot more fuckin' things to worry about than some two bit black marketeer, don't you?"
Guevara leaned back in his chair and let out a loud guffaw. "So this is why business has been so good. Okay, gringo, maybe we can work something out. You be here at dark. You not here--too fucking bad. We leave your pretty ass. And by the way, the price is five hundred American. And another thing, why do you not just go directly to our neighbor instead of taking such a roundabout route?"
Janice shook her head. "Three oh one," she countered. For some reason she really liked getting under this guy's skin. "And these days you take what transportation you can get."
"What kind of bargaining is this?" Guevara asked in exasperation. "Hokay, make it 475."
"Three oh two," Janice offered, smiling sweetly.
Again Oso grumbled a few words in Spanish before replying, "All right, all right! Four twenty-five! This is my last word."
"Janice took the cigar out of her mouth and cooed, "Three ninety-nine."
"Little one, I don't know what it is you do for a living but if you ever need a job... come and look me up, hokay?"
"For the record I'm an archaeologist," said Janice. "And I tell you what. When they finally bust your ass and send you off to the big house, you come and look me up after you get released. I'll give you a job."
"Yeah. You see, I can always use a man with experience in bustin' up rocks."
Guevara roared with laughter and stood up. "If you were my partner we could become very rich, little one."
"Maybe some other time," said Janice. She crushed her cigar under her boot and then reached into her shirt pocket. She took out what was left of her money and tossed on the table. "Consider that a down payment," she said. "But just remember, I don't want any billing errors, comprende?"
"You offend me, little one," said Guevara, with mock indignance. "Ask anyone, they will tell you Miguel Guevara is an honest man."
"Yeah right." Janice turned and started for the door. Halfway there she stopped and turned back. "Oh by the way, you'll have two passengers tonight."
"Two? No. No. Impossible!"
"Now we're not gonna go through all that again, are we?" sighed Janice.
Guevara eyed her keenly. He liked this woman. He liked her guts. "There is more risk," he said finally. "You must pay more."
"Okaaay," Janice said matter-of-factly, "we'll make it an even four hundred then."
Guevara threw up his hands in disgust and grumbled, "Dusk, little one. Be on time. Now get out of here before you cheat me out of my pants."
Back at the hotel Mel waited impatiently. Three o' clock came and went. No Janice. 3:15, 3:27. No Janice. 3:41, 3:52, 4 o' clock. No Janice. Mel was becoming very concerned. Where is she? 4:08. 4:17, then 4:30 came and went. Unable to take the waiting any longer, Mel leaped to her feet and exited their room, locking the door behind her as she went. She bounded down the steps to the lobby and then quickly strode to the front door, her long legs eating up impressive distances. No sooner had she exited the building when a hand caught her by the ear and tugged hard.
"Owww!" Mel bleated. "Darn it, Jan, that hurt."
"What did I tell you about leaving the hotel?" Janice asked through gritted teeth.
"I know what you said," frowned Mel, still rubbing her ear. "But you're almost two hours late and I wasn't just going to sit on my hands and continue to do nothing."
With only the barest hint of a smile Janice said, "Well I'm here now. Come on."
Ten minutes later they were in their room. "Golly Janice, aren't you going to tell me anything about what you did today?" Mel entreated.
Before responding Janice took a sip from her Coke and stretched out her tired legs. "Let's just say I was able to make some travel arrangements for us."
Melinda knew well enough she would get no more on the subject from the stubborn woman.
That evening, after dinner, Janice and Melinda made love for the first time in almost a week. As always, it was as thrilling for Mel as if this was her very first time because Janice had a real talent for making it so. It seems the brilliant archaeologist had learned a lot more during her extensive travels than just the proper way to brush off a rock. She sometimes wondered how many there had been before her. Several? Maybe. Janice was just too good at this. And men? Probably but it was hard to say for sure. Janice had never brought the subject up and Melinda surely was not going to.
In truth Melinda had never really seriously considered the possibility of having another woman for a lover until she met Janice. In her hellish days in high school she had been attracted to boys but none of them had been very interested in the gangly, painfully shy girl with the horn rimmed glassed. Then when she got to college the combination of her new found love for swimming and her heavy study load had served as a somewhat convenient excuse for her lack of social activity. Also she was very much the late bloomer. The more or less plain looking freshman had, by her senior year, become a very beautiful young woman--the classic ugly duckling story. She had also, to a certain extent, managed to suppress her chronic shyness but by then her interest in a relationship had more or less waned. Upon graduation she decided to concentrate fully on her work.
Then her father had died and while going through his papers Mel had found the fateful telegram from a certain Janice Covington. Intrigued by the idea of a female archaeologist in charge of her own dig, she had found her way to Macedonia and the rest, as they say, was history.
From the first day it had been apparent there was a special bond between the
ill-tempered Janice and the mild-mannered Melinda and over time this bond had grown
stronger and stronger. The tough, often cynical, and beautiful Janice opened up a whole
new world for her. A world where her deepest passions could be evoked and her desires
fulfilled on a scale she never dreamed possible.
As the last throes of Mel's second orgasm began to die away, Janice raised up and sat back on her knees. She then flung herself down on the bed beside the still throbbing Mel. Propping herself up on one elbow, she leaned over and whispered breathlessly, "God, Mel! What are you trying to do to me?"
Melinda rolled over on her side to face the petite woman. "Just making sure you kept your promise. What's the matter, Jan, she smiled puckishly, "you gettin' old?"
Janice cocked her head to one side. "You were trying to hold it back, weren't you?" she asked accusingly.
"Janice Covington, I simply don't know what you are talking about," replied Mel innocently.
A little too innocently to suit Janice. A broad grin slowly broke across her face and in one swift move she swung a leg across Melinda and sat upright on top of her. She wiggled her fingers ominously in front of Mel's face and in the cheesiest of German accents said, "Ve haf vays of making you talk, fraulein."
"Oh no!" pleaded Mel, already beginning to laugh. "Not that!"
"Tell me, Amerikaner, vhy do you hold off on your partner und make her vork so hard? How you do ziss?"
"Drop dead, Heinie!" smirked Mel playfully.
Janice dug her fingernails into Mel's ribs and savagely began to tickle her.
In between squeals of laughter Mel gasped, "Okay...you, you win. I...I thought...I thought of...baseball."
Janice stopped her torture and looked at Mel. In all earnestness she asked, "Really?" She was a huge baseball fan and was forever trying to indoctrinate a largely indifferent Mel to the intricacies of the National Pastime.
"No!" Mel smirked. She then shot her powerful arms up and caught her lover by the waist. She pulled the smaller woman down to her and rolled over on top of her. The much larger Mel now sat astride Janice, towering over her.
God! thought Janice. She's so strong! If Mel ever really go mad at me..."Darn it, Mel, that's cheating," she said aloud.
Janice saw her smile triumphantly and lean forward. Mel kissed her and with a taunting
whisper said, "Suc-kerrrr!"
Forty-five minutes later the surly desk clerk had the other half of his hundred dollar bill and Janice and Melinda were standing in front of Miguel Guevara's old warehouse.
"This is it?" Mel asked.
"Yep." Janice pulled open the screen door and stepped inside. The man guarding the door recognized her from earlier in the day and let the two women pass unchallenged. Guevara stood supervising his men as they loaded a black 2 1/2 ton truck. In the background a radio was playing rather loudly. Rather than just walk in on them and risk startling someone, Janice put two fingers in her mouth and emitted a loud, very shrill whistle.
The men stopped loading the truck and reached for their guns. Guevara spun around, saw who it was, and raised his hand to stop his men. "Ah, so you come at last," he said with a big toothy grin. "You had me worried. I was beginning to think you might have had a change of heart."
"Uh huuh, sure," said Janice with a wry little smile.
Guevara then locked his eyes on the statuesque Mel and emitted a low whistle. "Covington, you didn't say your friend was so, so...."
"Oh didn't I? Well I guess I forgot," said Janice. She did not care at all for the way he was gawking at the beautiful Melinda.
Guevara bowed to Mel with surprising elegance and asked, "May I be so bold as to ask what is your name?"
"Mel--Melinda Pappas," Mel answered with a nervous smile. For some reason this man was making her very uneasy.
"Miguel Guevara, at your service." He stepped forward to take her hand but both women misinterpreted his intentions.
Oh my! thought Mel.
Janice stepped in front of him, cutting him off. In a voice close to a growl she glared up at him and said, "Now that the passenger list has been confirmed, when do we leave?"
Guevara looked down at the formidable little woman with the slightly bared teeth that merely hinted at the boiling rage within her. Most odd, he thought. He wondered why the Covington woman was so protective of the tall, raven--haired beauty. He understood it was natural for one friend to want to look out for another but... Mentally he shrugged it off and said, "Ten minutes."
Janice jerked her head toward Guevara's makeshift desk and said, "We'll wait over there."
"As you wish."
Actually it was more than a half hour before the truck was loaded and ready to go. "Hokay, ladies, time to go," said Guevara, clapping his hands. For a minute he considered asking the obviously more delicate Mel if she would care to ride up front but he then recalled the seething anger in Janice's eyes and thought better of it. That one is loco enough to do anything, he thought. To the two of them he said, "You two--in the back."
Janice nodded to him and then looked at Mel. She jerked her head toward the truck and said, "In ya go."
Melinda climbed in the back of the truck aided by a gentle boost from Janice. As Guevara turned to go to the cab of the truck Janice caught his arm. Miguel Guevara was not a timid man. He had been in his share, more than his share of trouble before--even going so far as to kill a man once. But the look this young woman now gave him was enough to make his blood run cold.
"Listen you," Janice hissed just barely loud enough for him to hear. "Just so we understand each other. My friend in there is not too thrilled about all this. In fact she's a little scared. So I'd better not see any more of you fuckers making goo goo eyes at her, comprende?"
"No one means either of you any harm," said Guevara in all sincerity.
"Glad to hear that," replied Janice. "And let's not get any ideas about trying to pull a double cross either. Otherwise there will be some mighty sorry hombres."
Guevara looked down at her and slowly shook his head. He then tapped her on the chest and said, "All that anger you have inside is muy malo, mi amigo." With that he turned and made his way up front.
Janice stared after him for a moment before climbing up in the back of the truck. One of Guevara's men pulled the flap of the tarpaulin down and tied it off. She sat down by the tail gate and pulled the tarp back enough to see out. "Well, Kid, this is it," she said to Melinda.
The driver hit the starter and the truck's engine turned over one time before coming to life. From her place in the back Janice noted the engine was well tuned. This was really no surprise to her. After all this vehicle was money to Guevara. Now the truck lurched forward. They were on their way.
"You might as well try to get some rest if you can," said Janice. "It's gonna be a long night."
By the time they were across the Medio River Mel's head was in Janice's lap. By the time they made it to the Arrieros River the belle was fast asleep. All during the long night Janice sat there at the tail gate. She was grateful the main road was not a particularly rough one thus sparing her and Mel from having their kidneys jarred into jelly. However every so often she noticed the truck leave the main road and ease its way down one of the many little dirt roads that intersected the main artery. Janice's guess was they were probably trying to elude road blocks set up by the local authorities.
Finally at about 4:30 in the morning the truck crawled to a stop. Janice then heard the door on the passenger side open. Just be safe she pulled out her .38 and laid her hat over it.
"Covington!" Guevara whispered loudly as he untied the flap. "We're here."
After satisfying herself that all was as it should be, Janice discreetly stuck the gun back into the gas mask pouch and jammed her hat down on her head. "Mel. Mel, wake up."
"I'm up," her friend moaned softly. Quietly she sat up and rubbed her eyes before putting on her glasses. She had really gotten only about an hour of sleep all night but just lying there with her head in Janice's lap had been very comforting to her.
By now Guevara had the flap open and Janice was dropping cat-like to the ground from off the truck bed. "That road leads to where they are doing the digging," said Guevara, pointing to a narrow dirt strip running perpendicular to the main road
"How far?" Janice asked guardedly.
"Do not worry," said Guevara, sensing her mistrust. "It is only five hundred meters or so. I swear by the grave of mi madre."
"Well it had better be," retorted Janice, "'Cause if you think you can pull a fast one on me..."
"Tsk, tsk. Such hostility," Guevara whispered good naturedly. "Now, señorita, the diñero?"
Janice dug her hand into her shirt pocket and pulled out several folded over bills. Although the first hint of dawn was appearing in the eastern sky, it was at the moment still too dark to see much.
"Covington, I trust you," said Guevara, taking the bills and stuffing them into his pocket.
"It's all there," Janice assured him.
"I wish you luck," said Guevara.
I think we're gonna need it, thought Mel.
"Thanks," said Janice. "And Guevara?"
"Try to keep that can of yours out of prison, huh?"
"That is my most fervent wish,"said Guevara, bowing grandly. "Adios."
With that he quickly strode his way to the cab of the truck and climbed in. The women watched the truck roll away and soon it rounded a bend in the road and was gone.
"Well this is it, Mel?" said Janice with a deep sigh. "Now remember, when we meet Price let me do all the talkin' okay?"
"And whatever I say, no matter how outrageous, you act as if it's the gospel truth."
"Yes, Janice." Privately, however, Melinda wondered, Oh Lord, just what is she going to say?"
Continued..Part 2 (Conclusion)
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