/ Language: English / Genre:prose_military

The Corps V - Line of Fire

W.E.B. Griffin


Griffin, W.E.B.

The Corps V - Line of Fire

THE CORPS is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Second Lieutenant Drew James Barrett, III, USMC Company K, 3d Battalion, 26th Marines Born Denver, Colorado, 3 January 1945 Died Quang Nam Province, Republic of Vietnam, 27 February 1969 and Major Alfred Lee Butler, III, USMC Headquarters 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit Born Washington, D.C, 4 September 1950 Died Beirut, Lebanon, 8 February 1984 "Semper Fi! And to the memory of Donald L. Schomp A marine fighter pilot who became a legendary U.S. Army Master Aviator RIP 9 April 1989

Chapter One

[One]

BUKA, SOLOMON ISLANDS

SPRING AND SUMMER 1942

In the early months of 1942, a Major of the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps in Australia was forced to reconsider his long-held belief that he'd passed the point where the Army could surprise him.

The Pacific and Far East Shipping Corporation's freighter John J. Rogers Jr. docked at Melbourne after a long and perilous voyage from Bremerton, Washington. In addition to desperately needed war material , it off-loaded 800 identical, sturdy wooden crates. Each of these was roughly three feet by three feet by four feet, weighed 320 pounds, and was strapped with steel, waterproofed, and otherwise prepared for a long sea voyage.

These crates were loaded aboard trucks and taken to the U.S. Army Melbourne Area Ordnance Depot, a requisitioned warehouse area on the outskirts of the city. Because they were in waterproof packaging and inside storage space was at a premium (and because the Ordnance Corps Major could not leave the shipping manifest), the crates were placed on palettes holding four of the crates-and stored outside under canvas tarpaulins.

It was two weeks before the Ordnance Corps Major could find time to locate the shipment, remove the tarpaulin, cut the metal strapping, pry open the crates, then tear off the heavy tar-paper wrapping.

He found (as the manifest said, and indeed as was neatly stenciled onto the crates in inch-high letters) that each of the crates did indeed contain US SABERS, CAVALRY MODEL OF 1912, W/SCABBARDS, 25 EACH.

The sabers and their scabbards were packed five to a layer, and each crate held five layers. It took him a moment to do the arithmetic: If he had 800 crates, and there were twenty-five cavalry sabers, with scabbards, in each crate, that meant he had 20,000 cavalry sabers, with scabbards. They all looked new; they had probably never been issued. The Ordnance Major was aware that the last horse-cavalry unit in the U.S. Army, the 26th, had been dismounted in the Philippines; their mounts were converted to rations for the starving troops on Bataan; and the cavalry men went off to fight their last battle as infantrymen.

On the face of it, cavalry sabers were as useless in modern warfare as teats on a boar hog. A lesser man than the Ordnance Corps Major would have simply pulled the tarpaulin back in place and tried to forget both the US SABERS, CAVALRY MODEL OF 1912, W/SCABBARDs and the goddamned moron who used up that valuable-as-gold shipping space sending them all the way to Australia.

But the Ordnance Major was not such a man.

He gave a good deal of thought to how he could make them useful, yet the best he could come up with was to convert them to some kind of fighting knives, perhaps like the trench knives of World War 1. On investigation, however, this proved to be impractical. The blades were too heavy and the hilts too awkward.

He'd just about concluded that the sturdy crates the goddamned sabers were packed in had more potential use to the war effort than the sabers, when he had another idea. This one seemed to make sense.

And so a contract was issued to an Australian firm (before the war it had made automobile and truck bumpers) to convert the sabers into Substitute Standard machetes-at a cost of U.S.

$2.75 each. The blades were cut down to sixteen inches and portions of the hilts were ground off. The scabbards, meanwhile, were run through a stamping press. In one operation the press cut the scabbard to size and sealed its end.

And so when First Lieutenant Joseph L. Howard, USMCR, Commanding Officer of Detachment A, USMC Special Detachment 14, decided he needed a dozen machetes for a military operation, he was given MACHETES, SUBSTITUTE STANDARD, W/SHEATHS which had begun their military careers as us SABERS, CAVALRY MODEL OF 1912, W/SCABBARDS.

Actually, he got more than a dozen. Lieutenant Howard had had previous experience with the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps (as a sergeant), and he'd learned then that he was lucky to get half or a quarter-of what he'd requested.

This request proved an exception to that rule. He requisitioned one hundred machetes, and he got one hundred MACHETES, SUBSTITUTE STANDARD, W/SHEATHS.

The mission Lieutenant Howard drew the machetes for involved a parachute drop of both personnel and equipment.

Since there were no specially designed cargo containers, or parachutes, available for the equipment (most importantly, shortwave radios), ordinary personnel parachutes had to be adapted.

Cushioning the radios against the shock of landing was rather simply accomplished by wrapping them securely in mattresses.

But that wasn't the only problem. The standard personnel parachute was designed for a standard soldier carrying normal equipment-that is to say, it could handle a "drop weight" of 200 to 225 pounds. The mattress-wrapped shortwave radios weighed approximately 110 pounds.

Since lightly loaded parachutes fall more slowly than heavier ones, and thus drift more, Howard's radios would not fall to earth anywhere near his personnel.

This was a matter of critical concern, because Lieutenant Howard intended to drop upon a small landing area in the mountains of Buka Island.

Approximately thirty miles long and no more than five miles wide, Buka is the northernmost island in the Solomons chain.

That places it just north of the much larger Bougainville and 146 nautical miles from the Japanese base at Rabaul on New Britain.

On Buka, there was a Japanese fighter base and a garrison of Japanese troops variously estimated from several hundred to several thousand.

There was additionally a detachment of the Royal Australian Navy's Coastwatcher Establishment. This consisted of one officer, Sub-Lieutenant Jakob Reeves, RAN Volunteer Reserve, and approximately fifty Other Ranks, all of whom had been recruited from the native population.

Sub-Lieutenant Reeves remained behind when the Japanese occupied Buka; he was provided with a shortwave radio and a small quantity of arms and ammunition; and he was ordered to report on the movement of Japanese ships and aircraft from Rabaul, Bougainville, and of course from Buka.

From the beginning, these reports had been of enormous value for both tactical and planning purposes. But by June 1942, when Lieutenant Howard was preparing his drop, their importance had become even more critical: The United States planned to land on the island of Guadalcanal and to capture and make operational an airfield the Japanese were already building there. The invasion of Guadalcanal was not only the first Allied counterattack in the Pacific War, some considered it to be the campaign that could decide the outcome of the entire war in the Pacific.

Since there were no Allied air bases within fighter range of Guadalcanal, initial aviation support for the invasion of Guadalcanal would fly from aircraft carriers. But launching and recovering aircraft from carriers was a difficult, time-consuming operation, and aviation-fuel supplies were finite. These difficulties could be minimized, however, if the Navy could be informed when Japanese aircraft took off from Rabaul or other nearby bases and headed for the invasion area. That was the function of the Coastwatcher Station on Buka.

Unfortunately, Sub-Lieutenant Reeves' shortwave radio went off the air during the preparations for the invasion. The Coastwatcher Establishment saw two likely explanations for Reeves' absence: One, the radio itself had broken down (this was the most hopeful scenario). Or two (and much worse), the Japanese had captured Sub-Lieutenant Reeves.

An overflight of his location, conducted at great risk, returned with aerial photographs of a grassy field. The grass had been stamped down to form the letters RA, for radio. SubLieutenant Reeves needed another radio. Good news, considering the alternative.

USMC Special Detachment 14, whose mission in Australia was to support the Coastwatcher Establishment, had a number of brand-new, state-of-the-art Hallicrafters communications radios; and it would be a fairly easy thing to air-drop one to Sub-Lieutenant Reeves. The problem was that Reeves' knowledge of radios was minimal. He almost certainly would not know how to set one up and get it operational. Thus, the planners decided to send someone to Buka who could handle such things.

Additionally, the planners felt it would be useful to have a second aircraft spotter on Buka. Not only could Sub-Lieutenant Reeves use the help, but there was the further question of what to do should he become hors de combat from either enemy action or tropical illness-more a certainty than a probability.

It was decided, consequently, to parachute a radio operator technician into Buka with the radios. Sergeant Steven M. Koffler, USMC, was a parachutist as well as a radio operator technician. Unfortunately, he couldn't tell the difference between a bomber and a scout plane, and there was no time to teach him. Neither did Sergeant Koffler have the tropical jungle survival skills he was sure to need.

On the other hand, though Lieutenant Howard was not a parachutist, he not only had the necessary survival skills, he had as a sergeant taught classes in identification of Japanese aircraft and warships. And so Howard volunteered to jump in with Sergeant Koffler and the replacement radios.

When faced with the question of ballast for the cargo parachutes,(to bring their drop weight up to the norms for personnel parachutes), Lieutenant Howard suggested small arms and ammunition. For these were heavy, fairly indestructible, and valuable to Ferdinand Six-the radio call sign for Sub-Lieutenant Reeves' detachment.

But Lieutenant Commander Eric Feldt, Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve, disagreed. Feldt, who was commanding officer of the Coastwatcher Establishment, pointed out that the mission of the Coast watchers was not to fight the Japanese but to hide from them. Ferdinand was the bull who preferred to sniff flowers rather than fight, he reminded Lieutenant Howard and Major Edward F. Banning, USMC, the commanding officer of USMC Special A small quantity of small arms and ammunition should be dropped to replenish losses, he maintained. But what Howard and Koffler certainly needed were machetes. Machetes were not only useful for hacking through the jungle, they made effective-and silent-weapons.

Major Banning deferred to Commander Feldt's expertise. And the mattress-wrapped radios were ballasted primarily with MACHETES, SUBSTITUTE STANDARD. Their scabbards were left behind.

The airdrop on Buka went off more or less successfully. And Sub-Lieutenant Reeves was on the whole pleased to have what Feldt and Banning sent him. He was, as expected, delighted with his new radios. On the other hand, he entertained early doubts about the wisdom of dropping a pair of sodding Yanks in his sodding lap. He was not on Buka to nursemaid sodding children. One of them didn't even know enough about parachutes to keep from breaking his arm on landing.

The Other Ranks of Ferdinand Six, however, had no complaints about the drop, and they were especially overjoyed with the MACHETES, SUBSTITUTE STANDARD. Their own machetes were in short supply and worn out, while the new ones were high quality steel of a more modern and doubtless better design.

There were even enough of them to equip the women and the older boys with one. The men, as a general rule of thumb, went about with two.

[Two] FERDINAND SIX

BUKA, SOLOMON ISLANDS

28 AUGUST 1942

The commanding officer of the U.S. Marine Garrison on Buka Island and the senior representative of His Britannic Majesty's government there-that is to say, Lieutenant Joe Howard and Sub-Lieutenant Jakob Reeves elected to locate their command conference at a site where the subjects to be discussed and the decisions made relative thereto would not become immediately known to their respective commands.

They selected for this purpose the tree house, a platform built a hundred feet off the ground in an ancient enormous tree.

Large enough for three or four people to stand or sit comfortably, the tree house was their primary observation post. Since it was normally manned from daybreak to dark, as soon as Sub-Lieutenant Reeves finished climbing up the knotted rope, he ordered the man on duty, Petty Officer Ian Bruce, Royal Australian Navy Native Volunteer Reserve, to go catch a nap.

Petty Officer Bruce was armed with a Lee-Enfield Mark I.303 rifle and two MACHETES, SUBSTITUTE STANDARD, and he was wearing a loincloth and what might be described as a canvas kilt. He was a dark-skinned man with a mass of curly hair; his teeth were stained dark and filed into points; and his chest and face were decorated with scar patterns.

"Yes, Sir!" PO Bruce replied crisply, in Edinburgh-accented English. He and many of his fellows had been educated in a mission school operated by Protestant nuns from Scotland.

He went nimbly down the rope, and then Lieutenant Joe Howard climbed up.

Howard, who wore a three-month-old beard, was dressed in Marine Corps utilities. The trousers had been cut off just over the knees, and the sleeves torn out at the shoulders. He was armed with a Thompson.45 ACP caliber machine gun and what had once been a U.S. Army Cavalry saber.

He found Reeves sitting with his back against the trunk of the tree. He was wearing a battered and torn brimmed uniform cap, an equally soiled khaki uniform tunic, the sleeves of which had been cut off, and khaki shorts and shoes, the uppers of which were spotted with green mold. His hair hung down his neck, and he was wearing a beard even longer than Howard's.

A 9mm Sten submachine gun and a large pair of Ernst Leitz Wetzlar binoculars hung from his neck on web straps.

"I passed the distillery on the way here," Reeves said. "It's bubbling merrily."

"Sugar we have, salt we don't," Howard said.

"Yes," Reeves agreed. "And what do you infer from that?"

"That we can either die drunk or go get some salt. And maybe some other things." Reeves chuckled. Despite his initial doubts, he had come to admire Joe Howard since he dropped from the sky three months before. In fact, he'd grown fond of him.

"The last time the cannibals attacked a Japanese patrol," Reeves said evenly, "they had three hundred people up here for a week."

"But they didn't find us."

"They came pretty sodding close."

"We need salt," Howard repeated. "And we really could use a couple of hundred pounds of rice. Maybe even some canned smoked oysters, some canned crab. Koffler said he would really like to have a Japanese radio. I'm not even mentioning quinine or alcohol or other medicine." "If I were the Japanese commander, and I heard that an outpost of mine had been overrun by cannibals who made off with smoked oysters, medicine, and a radio, I think I'd bloody well question if they were really cannibals."

"I think they know, Jake. By now, they must."

"And if they suspected that the cannibals were led by an Australian, or for that matter by an American Marine-and I think probably by now they've heard us talking to Pearl, which would suggest an American presence-then one thought that would occur to me would be to arrange an ambush for the cannibals the next time they came out of the sodding jungle."

"We need salt," Howard said.

"You keep saying that, mate."

"That's not debatable."

Reeves shrugged, granting the point.

"Which means we have to get some from the Japs. We would get the same reaction from stealing a fifty-pound bag of salt as we would carrying off whatever we find."

"The last time we were lucky."

"Where does it say you can't be lucky twice in a row?"

"In the sodding tables of probability, you jackass!" Reeves said, chuckling.

"I'll take Ian Bruce," Howard said. "And a dozen men. I can make it back in six days."

"No," Reeves said, smiling, but firmly.

"Jake, that sort of thing is my specialty."

"I know Buka. You don't," Reeves said. "For one thing we can't afford to lose you, Jake. If you weren't around, the natives would take off, and Christ knows, I wouldn't blame them."

"Precisely my point," Reeves said. "Except that they wouldn't just take off. There would be a debate whether they should convert you to long pig or sell you to the Japanese." `You don't mean that," Howard said.

`About the long pie. Or selling you to the Japanese?" Reeves asked. "Yes, I do, mate. Both. My use of the word `cannibal' was not to be cute. You don't think the good nuns put those scars on Ian's face, do you?" Their eyes met for a moment and then Reeves went on: "We'll leave Ian Bruce here with Steve Koffler, one or two other men, and most of the women. That'll keep the station up, and there'll be enough people to carry things off if the Nips should luck upon them while we're gone." Howard thought that over for a minute and then looked at Reeves again.

"Ian and Koffler have become friends. We'll leave Patience behind too. The two of them might just get Koffler off safe in case the Nips do come. Do you disagree?" Though Miss Patience Witherspoon was also educated by the nuns in the mission school, she immediately forgot all they taught her about the Christian virtue of chastity the moment she laid eyes upon Sergeant Steven M. Koffler, USMC. Not only were Patience and Koffler both eighteen years old, she found him startlingly attractive.

Her unabashed interest in Sergeant Koffler had not been reciprocated, possibly because Patience's teeth were stained dark and filed to a point, and her not-at-all-unattractive bosom and stomach, which she did not conceal, were decorated with scar tissue.

Lieutenant Howard did not know, and did not want to know, whether time had changed Koffler's views about Patience. And if his views had changed, whether she crawled into his bed at night.

But, he realized, Reeves was right again. If the requisitioning mission went bad, or if the Japanese should luck upon this place while they were gone, Ian and Patience were Koffler's best chance of survival. Perhaps his only chance.

"No, you're right, of course," Howard said.

"And of course, with you along with us, we will have the benefit of your warrior skills."

"Bullshit."

"I wouldn't want this to go to your head, old boy, but the chaps are beginning to admire you. Very possibly it's your beard. Theirs don't grow as long as ours. But in any event, if we both go, and if something unpleasant should happen to me, I think-I said think-that the chaps would probably come back here with you." Howard met his eyes.

"I was thinking we should leave at first light tomorrow."

"No. I think we should leave now. That way we can move the rest of the day and through the night, and then sleep all day tomorrow. " Reeves stood up.

"I'll have a word with Ian," he said. "And you can have a word with Koffler."

[Three]

HENDERSON FIELD

GUADALCANAL, SOLOMON

ISLANDS 28 AUGUST 1942

The twin-engine, twenty-one-passenger Douglas aircraft known commercially as the DC-3 and affectionately as the Gooneybird was given various other designations by the military services that used it: To the U.S. Army, for instance, it was the C-47; to British Empire forces it was the Dakota; and the U.S. Navy-and so The Marines called it the R4D.

An hour out of Espiritu Santo for Guadalcanal the crew chief of the MAG-25 (Marine Air Groups consisted of two or usually more Marine aircraft squadrons) R4D came out of the cockpit and made his way past the row of high-priority cargo lashed down the center of the fuselage. At the rear of the cabin, a good-looking, brown-haired, slim, and deeply tanned young man in his middle twenties had made himself a bed on a stack of mailbags.

The other two passengers, a Marine Lieutenant Colonel and an Army Air Corps Captain, both of whom carried with them the equipment, clothing, and weapons specified by regulation for officers assigned to Guadalcanal, were more than a little curious about the young man dozing on the mailbags, For one thing, he had boarded the aircraft at the very last moment; the pilot had actually shut down one of the engines so the door could be reopened. For another, his only luggage was a bag made out of a pillowcase, the open end tied in a knot. He was wearing khaki trousers and a shirt, the collar points of which were adorned with the silver railroad tracks of a captain, and Marine utility boots, called "boondockers." All items of uniform were brand new. In fact, the young Captain had even failed to remove the little inspection and other stickers with which military clothing comes from stock.

The crew chief, a staff sergeant, started to reach for the Captain's shoulders to wake him, but stopped when the Captain opened his eyes.

"Sir," the crew chief said, "Major Finch wants you to come forward."

"OK," the young Captain said, stretching and then getting to his feet.

He followed the crew chief back up the cabin to the cockpit door. The crew chief opened the door, held it for the Captain, and then motioned him to go first.

The Captain went as far forward as he could go, then squatted down, placing his face level with the Major's in the pilot's seat.

"You wanted to see me, Sir?"

"Oh, I got curious. I sort of expected you would come here on your own to say thank you."

"I am surprised the Major has forgotten what he learned in Gooneybird transition: `Unauthorized visitors to the cockpit are to be discouraged." The Major laughed.

"Speaking of unauthorized, Charley, how much trouble can I expect to get in for giving you this ride?"

"None, Sir. I'm still assigned to the squadron. I'm just going home."

"Why does that sound too simple?" the Major asked. He looked at the copilot, a young first lieutenant. "Mr. Geller, say hello to Captain Charley Galloway, of fame and legend."

"How do you do, Sir?" Lieutenant Geller said, smiling and offering his hand.

"You may have noticed, Mr. Geller, what a superb R4D pilot I am..."

"Yes, Sir, Major Finch, Sir, I have noticed that, Sir," Lieutenant Geller said.

"The reason is that my IP was Charley here."

"At Fort Benning," Galloway said, smiling, remembering.

"We drove the Air Corps nuts," Finch said. "Here I was, a brand-new major, and Sergeant Galloway was teaching me and ten other Marine officers-how to fly one of these. The Army doesn't have any flying sergeants." Lieutenant Geller dutifully laughed.

"I think maybe I should have busted my check ride," Finch said. "Then maybe I would be flying fighters instead of this."

"But tonight you will be back on Espiritu Santo," Galloway said, "drinking whiskey with nurses and going to bed in a cot with real sheets."

"I understand creature comforts are a little short at Henderson," Finch said.

"You haven't been there?" Galloway asked, surprised.

"This is my first trip."

"Creature comforts are a little short at Henderson," Galloway said. "Let me give you a little protocol: Nice transient copilots, Mr. Geller, pump their own fuel out of the barrels into the tanks."

"No ground crews?" Finch asked.

"And no fuel trucks. What gas there is comes in on High Speed Transports..."

"What's a High Speed Transport?" Geller asked.

"A World War One destroyer with half its boilers removed and converted to troop space," Galloway explained. "High Speed only in the sense that they're faster than troop transports.

"Anyway, gas comes in fifty-five-gallon barrels lashed to the decks. The Navy either loads them into landing barges, or, it' time is short, throws them over the side-they float, You know-and then the Marines take over-getting it to shore, off the barges and to the field. The heat and humidity are really nasty. You don't have to move many fifty-five-gallon barrels of, Av-Gas very far before your ass is dragging. So please, Mr. Geller, don't stand around with your finger up your ass watching somebody else fuel this thing up."

"No, Sir," Geller said.

"How come there's no Navy shore parties to handle supplies?" Finch asked.

"You've been in The Corps more than three weeks, Jack," Galloway said. "You should know that the Navy doesn't give The Corps one goddamn thing it doesn't have to."

"That sounds a little bitter, Charley," Finch said. There was just a hint of disapproval in his voice.

"Sailors I get along with pretty well," Galloway said. "It's the Navy I have problems with." Finch chuckled, then asked, "Are you going to tell me why you needed this off-the-manifest ride to Henderson?"

"Because some Navy two-striper on Espiritu decided that I should get back to Guadalcanal on one of those High Speed Transports."

"What's wrong with that?"

"I get seasick," Galloway said.

"Bullshit."

"My executive officer is a brand-new first lieutenant with maybe 350 hours' total time. And he's one of my more experienced pilots."

"Now that we're telling the truth, are you all right to fly? Or did you just walk out of the hospital?"

"I'm all right. I didn't get hurt when I went in. I got sunburned and dehydrated, that's all."

"Is that straight, Charley?"

"Yeah, I'm all right."

"What happened, Charley?"

"I really don't know. I never saw the guy who got me. A Zero, I'm sure. But I didn't see him. The engine nacelle started to come off, and then the engine froze. And caught fire. So I remembered what my IP had taught me about how to get out of an F4F and got out."

"How long were you in the water?"

"Overnight. A PT boat picked me up at first light the next morning."

"Jesus!"

"God takes care of fools and drunks," Galloway said. "I qualify on both counts." Geller, Finch noticed, is looking at Galloway as if he was Lazarus just risen from the dead.

"Tell me about Henderson," Major Finch asked, sensing that Galloway would welcome a change of subject.

"It's not Pensacola," Galloway replied. "The Japs started it, and had it pretty well along when we took it away from them which is obviously why we went in half-assed the way we did.

If they'd gotten it up and running, Jesus Christ! Using captured construction equipment, our guys made it more or less usable."

"Why captured construction equipment?" Geller asked.

"Because the construction equipment the First Marines took with them never got to the beach. It, and their heavy artillery, and even a bunch of Marines, sailed off into the sunset the day after they landed because the Navy didn't want to risk their precious ships. Right now, at least half of the ration is captured Jap stuff."

"My God!" Finch said.

"Actually, some of it's not bad," Galloway went on. "I mean it's not just rice. There's orange and tangerine slices, crab and lobster and shrimp, stuff like that."

"What's the field like?" Finch pursued.

"Twenty-six hundred feet," Galloway answered. "They're working to lengthen it. It gets muddy when it rains, and it rains every day. We have a lot of accidents on the ground because of the mud."

"Dirt? Not pierced-steel planking?"

"Dirt. And there's talk-maybe they even started on it-of making another strip for fighters, a couple of hundred yards away." Galloway suddenly stood up. His legs were getting cramped "Would you like to sit in here, Sir?" Geller asked politely.

"No. No, thank you," Galloway said, and then smiled. "Tell me, Mr. Geller, have you ever seen a P-400?"

"What the hell is a P-400?" Finch asked.

"No, Sir," Geller said.

"It used to be the P-39," Galloway said. "The story is they renamed it the P-400 because everybody knew the P-39 was no goddamned good. They were supposed to be sent to Russia"

"That's the low-wing Bell with the engine behind the pilot, and with a 20mm cannon firing through the propeller nose"" Geller interrupted.

"Right. The cannon was supposed to be used against German tanks. But then somebody told them a 20mm bounced off German tanks, so the Russians said, `No, thank you." So then the British were supposed to get them. They flew just enough of them-one, probably-to learn they were no good.

So they said, `No, thank you,' too. So they sent them to Guadalcanal."

"To the Marines?" Geller asked.

"No. There's an Army Air Corps squadron. They have a high-pressure oxygen system, said to be very effective to twenty-five thousand feet, which would be very helpful; the Japanese often come down from Rabaul at high altitude. Except we don't have the gear to charge the oxygen system, so they can't fly above twelve, fourteen thousand feet. And aside from that, it's not a very good airplane in the first place."

"Then why the hell are you so anxious to get back to this paradise?"

Finch asked, without thinking, and was immediately sorry.

The Marine Corps finally did something right and made Galloway a captain and gave him a squadron, Finch thought. He wants to get back because good Marine captains-and Galloway is probably a better captain than he was a tech sergeant-want to be with their squadrons.

Not surprising Finch at all, Galloway ignored the question.

"We have pretty good Intelligence," Galloway went on.

"The Australians left people behind when the Japs started taking all these islands."

"I don't follow you, Charley," Finch said.

"They left behind missionaries, government employees, plantation owners, people like that. They commissioned them into the Australian Navy and gave them shortwave radios. Just as soon as the Japs take off, we know about it. And we get enroute reports, too. Which gives us enough time to get the Wildcats into the air and at altitude before they get there. The P-400s and the dive bombers-we had thirty Douglas SBD-3s; there were eighteen left the last time I was there-take off and get the hell out of the Japs' way."

"You mean the P-400s are useless?"

"No. Not at all. They're useful as hell supporting the First Marine Division. But they can't get up high enough to attack the Japanese bombers, and they're no match for the Japs' Zeroes. So they get out of the way when the Japs have planes in the area. I really feel sorry for those Air Corps guys. The P-400 is the Air Corps version of the Buffalo." Finch knew all about the Buffalo. It was a shitty airplane.

VMF-211 flew them in the Battle of Midway (VMF is the designation for Marine Fighter squadrons). For all practical purposes the squadron had been wiped out. The only survivors were the pilots lucky enough to have been assigned Wildcats.

Galloway lost a lot of buddies with VMF-211 at Midway, he thought. We all did. In the old days, you knew just about every other Marine Aviator.

"You want to drive this awhile, Charley?" Finch asked as he started to unfasten his seat and shoulder harness. "I need to take a leak and stretch my legs." He got out of his seat and Galloway slid into it. Finch paused to take down a Thermos bottle of coffee from its rack and pour an inch of it into a cup. He drank that. Then he poured more into the cup and leaned over to hand it to Galloway.

Galloway's hand was on the throttle quadrant. Apparently the synchronization of the engines was not to his satisfaction.

Ordinarily, Finch thought, my ego would be hurt and I would be pissed. But in this case, in the interest of all-around honesty, I will concede that Captain-formerly Tech Sergeant-Charley, Galloway has forgotten more about flying the R4D than I know.

"Coffee, Charley?" he asked, touching Galloway's shoulder.

Finch brought the R4D in low over the ocean, making a straight-in approach toward Henderson Field, which was more or less at right angles to the beach. He called for wheels down as he crossed the beach, and maintained his shallow angle of' descent until he reached the runway itself.

There was no chirp as the wheels touched down, just a sudden rumbling to tell him that he was on the ground.

He chopped the throttles, put the tail on the ground, and applied the brakes, stopping before he reached the control tower, which was to the right of the runway. To his left he saw parts of three hangars, but couldn't tell if they were damaged or simply under construction.

He saw other signs of damage around. There was an aircraft graveyard to the left. People were cannibalizing parts from wrecks, including the P-400s Galloway talked about.

A FOLLOW ME jeep appeared on the runway, and he followed it toward the control tower. A Marine in the jeep jumped out and showed him where he was to park the airplane.

He spotted a familiar face, or more accurately a familiar hairless head, thick neck, and massive chest belonging to Technical Sergeant Big Steve Oblensky. He was glad to see him.

Tech Sergeant Oblensky had been very kind to a very young Lieutenant Finch when he reported to his first squadron.

Oblensky's uniform consisted of utility trousers, boondockers, and a Thompson submachine gun slung from his bare shoulder.

Oblensky, who had more than enough time in The Corps to retire, had been a Flying Sergeant when Major Finch was in junior high school. Long ago he'd busted his flight physical, but had stayed in The Corps as a maintenance sergeant. He had been Maintenance Sergeant of VMF-211, Finch recalled, until Charley Galloway stole him when he formed his VMF-229.

He was not surprised to see Oblensky. Half the crates lashed down the center of the fuselage were emergency shipments of aircraft parts, and Big Steve was not the sort of man to order emergency shipments only to see them diverted by some other maintenance sergeant. Or for that matter, by the MAW Commanding General.

"Shut it down, Geller," Finch ordered and got out of his seat.

When he reached the rear door of the aircraft, he saw a sight he never expected to see. Technical Sergeant Oblensky ran up to his squadron commander, Captain Charles M. Galloway.

But instead of saluting him, he wrapped his arms around him, lifted him off the ground, and complained, "You little bastard, we all thought you was dead!"

"Put me down, for Christ's sake, you hairless ape!" Major Finch recalled that Galloway and Oblensky had been in VMF-211 for a long time before the war. Galloway had then been a technical sergeant.

Oblensky set Galloway back on his feet. But emotion overwhelmed him again. He swung his massive fist at Galloway's arm in a friendly touch, or so he intended. It almost knocked Galloway off his feet.

"Goddamn-it's good to see you!"

"Christ, watch it, will you?" Galloway complained.

But he was smiling, Finch noticed.

"Hello, Oblensky, how are you?" Finch called as he climbed down the stairs to the ground. Oblensky looked, and when recognition dawned on his face, he came to attention and threw a very crisp salute.

"Major Finch, Sir. It's good to see you, Sir." Finch returned the salute.

Oblensky is obviously glad to see me. But not as glad as he is to see Galloway. Whatever the reason, whether because they were sergeants together, or because Charley is just back, literally, from the mouth of death, I'm just a little jealous.

"There's some stuff on board for VMF-229, Oblensky," Finch said as the two shook hands.

"I better get it," Oblensky said, then turning to Galloway, he remembered the appropriate military courtesy before he went on. "Captain, Ward and Schneider are flying out on this thing.

I mean, if you wanted to say hello or so long, or something, Sir." He pointed to a fly tent erected behind the control tower, between the tower and the tree line. Galloway saw a half dozen jeeps near there, each rigged for stretchers. Several of these had red crosses painted on their hoods.

"How bad are they hurt?" Galloway asked.

"Mr. Schneider's got a busted ankle and took some hits in the legs. Mr. Ward busted his ribs and took some little shit, shrapnel, glass, whatever, in the face. He's not so bad off. I don't know why they're evacuating him."

"And the others?" Galloway asked softly.

"Mr. Jiggs and Mr. Hawthorne didn't make it, Sir," Oblensky said.

"Everybody else is all right." Galloway turned to Finch.

"Thank you for the ride, Sir," he said.

"Anytime, Charley," Finch said, putting out his hand. "Be careful. Get to be one of those old, cautious birdmen we hear about." Galloway freed his hand and saluted, then walked off toward the fly tent.

He found First Lieutenant James G. Ward, USMCR, sitting on a cot, holding his shirt on his lap. He was bare-chested except for the adhesive tape wrapped around his upper torso, his head was wrapped in bandages; the parts of his face that were visible looked like someone had beaten him with a baseball bat; and his neck and shoulders were decorated with a dozen small bandages.

What did that idiot say? "He's not so bad off"? What's bad off, then?

"Hello, Jim," Galloway said. "I'd ask how you are, except that I'm afraid you'd tell me." Ward, startled, jumped to his feet.

"My God, am I glad to see you!"

"Yeah, me too," Galloway said.

He was fond of Jim Ward for many reasons... and not just because Jim Ward was responsible for his initial meeting with Mrs. Carolyn Ward McNamara, who was Jim's aunt. Carolyn's last letter to Galloway was signed, "all of my love, my darling, always, to the end of time. " And Galloway felt pretty much the same about her.

"These idiots want to evacuate me!" Ward said indignantly, gesturing toward a group of medical personnel at the far end of the fly tent.

"Really? I wonder why?"

"All I've got is some busted ribs."

"Have you looked in a mirror lately?"

"I took some shards from the windscreen," Ward protested.

"And I guess I banged my face against the canopy rails or something. But the bandages and the swelling will be gone in a week." He saw the look on Galloway's face and added indignantly, "Go ask them if you don't believe me."

"Where's Schneider? More importantly, how is Schneider?" First Lieutenant David F. Schneider, USMC, a graduate of the Naval Academy and the nephew of an admiral, had only one redeeming feature, in Galloway's judgment. The arrogant, self-important little shit had a natural ability to fly airplanes.

"He's in pretty bad shape," Jim Ward said. "He broke his ankle. I mean bad. And he took a bullet and some shrapnel in his leg. They've been keeping him pretty well doped up." He pointed to a cot at the far end of the fly tent near where the medical personnel were gathered.

"You stay here," Galloway ordered. "I'll ask why you're being evacuated."

"I can fly now, for Christ's sake."

"Yeah, sure you can," Galloway said.

He walked to the foot of Schneider's cot. Schneider's face looked wan, and his eyes, though open, seemed to be not quite focused on the canvas overhead. A cast covered his foot and his left leg nearly up to his knee; and his upper right leg was covered with a bandage from his knee to his crotch. Like Ward, he was peppered with small bandages.

"Hey, Dave, you awake?" Galloway called softly.

Schneider's eyes finally focused on Galloway and recognition came. He smiled and started to push himself up on the cot.

"We heard you were alive, Sir. I'm delighted."

"What happened to you?"

"I took some hits in the leg, Sir. And as I was landing, I found that I was unable to operate the right rudder pedal. I went off the runway and hit a truck, Sir."

"How's the truck?" Galloway asked jokingly.

"I understand it was one of the trucks the Japanese rendered inoperable, Sir," Schneider said, seriously. "I regret that I totaled the aircraft, Sir."

"Well, by the time you get back, we'll have a new one for you."

"Yes, Sir."

"Anything I can do you, Dave?"

"No, Sir. But thank you very much."

"I just came from Espiritu Santo, Dave. What they'll probably do is keep you there no more than a day and then fly you to the new Army General Hospital in Melbourne."

"Not to a Navy hospital, Sir?" Schneider asked, disappointed.

Galloway knew the reason for Schneider's disappointment: Ensign Mary Agnes O'Malley, NNC, might not be serving at the hospital where he was assigned. Mary Agnes O'Malley was a sexual engine who ran most of the time over the red line, and in recent times she liked having Schneider's hands on her throttle.

Jesus, as doped up as he is, he's still thinking about Mary Agnes, hoping she'll be there to nurse him in a way not ordinarily provided. Sorry, Dave, even if you go to a Navy hospital, and Mary Agnes was there with her libido in supercharge, it'll be some time before you'll be bouncing around on the sheets again.

"Hey, Dave," Galloway said. "Hospitals are hospitals."

"Yes, Sir." A small-boned little man in utilities walked up to the cot, swabbed at Schneider's arm with a cotton ball, and then gave him an injection. At first Galloway thought he was a Navy corpsman, but then he saw a gold oak leaf on the little man's collar. He was a lieutenant commander.

He was not wearing a Red Cross brassard, Galloway noticed, and there was a web belt with a Colt.45 automatic pistol in its holster dangling from it.

He looked at Galloway coldly and walked away. When Galloway looked down at Schneider again, his eyes were closed.

Galloway walked after the doctor.

"Got a minute, Doctor?" The little man turned and again looked coldly at Galloway.

"Certainly I have a minute. Obviously there is very little for me to do around here. What's on your mind?"

"Lieutenant Ward, over there," Galloway said, jerking his thumb toward Ward, "doesn't think he really has to be evacuated."

"What are you, his priest or something?"

"I told him I would ask, Commander," Galloway replied.

"OK. He has broken ribs. He can't fly with broken ribs, OK?

His nose is broken, OK? And there is a good chance he has some bone damage in that area. We won't know until we can get a good ENandT guy to take a good look at him, OK? In addition to that, he has a number of small penetrating wounds, each of which, in this fucking filthy humid environment, is likely to get infected, OK? So I made a decision, Chaplain: Either I let this guy hang around here, and not only get sicker, OK? And take up bed space I'm going to need soon, OK? And eat rations, which we don't have enough of as it is, OK? Or I could evacuate him, OK? I decided to evacuate him. OK?"

"OK," Galloway said. "Sorry to bother you."

"I don't know how long you've been around here, Chaplain," the doctor said. "But you better understand that these pilots are all crazy. For example, I just got word that a lunatic in the hospital on Espiritu Santo went AWOL to come back here. The son of a bitch was suffering from exposure and dehydration after he got shot down and floated around in the goddamned ocean for eighteen hours."

"You don't say?"

"Anything else on your mind, Chaplain?"

"No, thank you very much, Doctor." The doctor turned and walked away. Galloway went back to Jim Ward.

"What did he say, Skipper?"

"He said get on the airplane, Mr. Ward. He said unless you do, your wang will turn black and fall off."

"Come on, I can fly."

"Have a good time in Australia, Jim," Galloway said.

"Oh, shit!" Jim Ward said, resigned to his fate.

When Lieutenant Colonel Clyde W. Dawkins, USMC, wearing a sweat-soaked tropical areas flight suit and a.45 automatic in a shoulder holster, raised his eyes from his desk, he saw Captain Charles M. Galloway, USMCR, standing at the entrance to his tent. Though Dawkins looked hot and hassled, his voice was conversational, even cordial, when he spoke:

"Please come in and have a seat, Captain Galloway, I'll be with you in just a moment."

"Thank you, Sir," Galloway said.

Galloway was worried. He had served under Dawkins for a long time, and he knew Dawkins: When he was really pissed, he really lowered the boom, he assumed the manner of a friendly uncle.

A full two minutes later, Dawkins looked at him.

"I must confess a certain degree of surprise, Captain Galloway. From the description of your physical condition and mental attitude furnished by the medics on Espiritu Santo, I expected a pathetic physical wreck, eyes blazing with a maniacal conviction that the entire war will be lost unless he is there to fight it himself."

"Sir, I'm all right. All I was doing was sitting around reading three-month-old copies of the Saturday Evening Post. "

"In case this has not yet come to your attention, Captain, the Naval Service, in its wisdom, has certain designated specialists, called doctors, who determine if people are fit, or not fit, to return to duty. What makes you think your judgment is superior to theirs?" Galloway opened his mouth to reply, but Dawkins went on before he could. "How the hell did you get back here, anyway?"

"I caught a ride, Sir."

"And did you really think you could get away with just getting on a plane and coming back here?" Galloway made no reply.

"They want you court-martialed for breaking into some supply room. What the hell is that all about? What did you steal, anyway?" Galloway waved his hand, indicating his uniform.

"They wouldn't give me my uniform back, Sir." Dawkins glowered at him for a full thirty seconds, and then said, "If I wasn't so glad to see you, you sonofabitch, I'd personally kick your ass all over this airfield, and then send you back there in irons."

"I thought I should be here, Sir," Galloway said.

"Are you really all right, Charley?"

"I looked like a corpse when they fished me out of the water, and I never want to get that thirsty again, but yes Sir, I'm all right."

"What do you mean, you looked like a corpse?"

"My skin was all puckered up."

"You realize how lucky you were?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Jiggs and Hawthorne weren't lucky," Dawkins said.

"Yes, Sir, Oblensky told me."

"And you know about Ward and Schneider?"

"Yes, Sir. I just saw them. Ward's unhappy about being evacuated."

"Well, following the sterling example of his squadron commander, he'll probably go AWOL and come right back."

"I didn't have the chance to ask Big Steve about aircraft," Galloway said, hoping to change the subject.

"You have eight left. Christ only knows when we'll get more.

I think the Air Corps is down to about six of their P-400s. Have you seen Dunn?"

"No, Sir. I came right here."

"He is now officially an ace. I put him in for a DSC," a Distinguished Service Cross. "They bumped it down to a DFC," a Distinguished Flying Cross.

"You should have known they would," Galloway said.

Dawkins nodded. "That's why I put him in for the DSC. If I'd have put him in for a DFC, they would have bumped it down to a Good Conduct Medal." Galloway chuckled.

"You're credited with three and a half," Dawkins said.

"Anything unusual I should know?" Dawkins shook his head.

"Same drill. We generally get thirty minutes' notice from the Coastwatcher people, via either Pearl Harbor or Townsville.

That gives us enough time to get off the ground and to altitude.

By then the radar can usually give us a vector. We shoot them down or they shoot us down. That will go on until one side or the other runs out of airplanes. Right now, unless we get some help from the Navy, that looks like us."

"There was a bunch of F4F pilots on Espiritu. Right out of Pensacola." "That's academic. We don't have airplanes for them to fly." Their eyes met for a moment, and then Galloway said, "I suppose I better go see Dunn and let him know I'm back." As the next senior officer present for duty, First Lieutenant William Charles Dunn, USMCR, assumed command of VMF229 after Galloway was shot down and presumed dead. Bill Dunn was twenty-one years old; he stood five feet six, weighed no more than 135 pounds, and looked to Dawkins like a college cheerleader. He became an ace the day he took over VMF-229.

Dawkins nodded, and then stood up and offered his hand.

"I'm glad you came through, Charley. God knows how, but I'll deal with the people you've pissed off."

"Thank you, Sir." Galloway had gone no farther than two hundred yards from Dawkins' tent when a siren began to wail. He looked at the control tower. A black flag-signifying air base under attack was being hoisted on the flagpole.

He started to trot toward the area where the aircraft of VMF-229 were parked in sandbagged revetments. Then, realizing that he really had no reason to rush to his airplane, he slowed to a walk: The F4F with CAPT C. GALLOWAY USMCR painted below the canopy track was now at the bottom of the sea.

Soon he heard the peculiar sound of Wildcat engines starting, and then the different sound of R4D engines being run up to takeoff power. He looked down the runway in time to see the R4D he'd flown in to Guadalcanal begin its takeoff roll. A moment later it flashed over his head.

No more than sixty seconds later, the first F4F with MARINES painted on its fuselage bounced down the runway and staggered into the air, followed almost immediately by half a dozen others.

From his position, he could not see into their cockpits and identify their pilots.

He kept walking toward the squadron area.

The next time the Japanese come, I will bump one of my eager young lieutenants out of his seat. Will I be doing that because I really think that a squadron commander's place is in the air with his men? Or was that doctor on Espiritu right, that anyone who does such things when he hasn't been ordered to is by definitional out of his mind?

Chapter Two

[One]

U.S. MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT

PARRIS ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA

31 AUGUST 1942

Prior to his enlistment in The Marine Corps, George F. Hart, USMCR, was employed by the Saint Louis, Missouri, Police Department. Specifically, the twenty-four-year-old fifth son and eighth child of Captain (of the Saint Louis police) and Mrs. Karl J. Hart was the youngest (ever) detective on that organization I s Vice Squad. Law enforcement was something of a family tradition.

After immigrating to the United States from Silesia, George's paternal grandfather, Anton Hartzberger, joined the force a month after he became an American citizen. He retired as a sergeant.

Two of Anton's sons, George's father and his Uncle Fred (legally Friedrich), went on the cops, as did two of George's brothers and a pair of cousins. Uncle Fred was a harness bull sergeant and happy to be where he was... though he thought it would be nice if he made lieutenant later, because of the pension. George's father, Karl, was promoted to Captain shortly after he was placed in charge of the Homicide Bureau; and he had ambitions for higher rank. But he believed his ambitions were damaged all along by the perception that he was one more stupid Kraut-of which, it must be admitted, the Saint Louis police had a more than adequate supply.

When Georg Friedrich Hartzberger was in the eighth grade, Sergeant Karl Hartzberger took his wife and his children to a judge's chambers. They emerged the Hart family, with all their given names Anglicized.

After he graduated from high school, George found employment as a truck driver's helper for a well-known Saint Louis brewery-despite misgivings that he wasn't big or strong enough to handle it.

Legally, he should have been over twenty-one before taking employment in the alcohol industry. But that provision of law was enforced by the police department, none of whose members saw reason to inquire just how old Captain Hart's kid was.

And so for close to three years, he manhandled beer kegs and cases of bottled beer from loading dock to truck, and from truck to saloon or store basements, or to wherever those in the business of slaking the thirst of their fellow citizens chose to keep their supplies of brew.

George Hart was sworn in as a police officer when he was twenty-one. By then the regimen of beer-keg tossing had given him a remarkable musculature. While he wasn't built like et circus strongman-as many of his coworkers were-he was extraordinarily strong. For example, he could (and often did, when sampling his employer's wares) cause an unopened beer can to explode by crushing it in his hand.

He had also been inside just about every hotel, motel, restaurant, tavern, bar and grill, saloon, and whorehouse in both Saint Louis and East Saint Louis, its neighbor across the river in Illinois.

The usual period of rookie training-riding around with an experienced officer so as to become familiar with the city and with police procedures-was very short for Officer Hart. He already knew the city, and there wasn't much about the police department that he hadn't already learned before he joined the cops.

Afterward, he was assigned as a plain-clothes officer to the Vice Squad. The mission of the Vice Squad was the suppression of gambling, prostitution, narcotics, and crimes against nature.

As a practical matter, as long as the girls in the houses behaved themselves (which meant they didn't roll their clientele or sell them narcotics), the whorehouses were left pretty much alone.

Nor did the police get very excited about a bunch of guys sitting around playing poker or shooting crap.

For the most part that left the drug dealers, the fairies, and the pimps especially black pimps who preyed on young women, especially really young, fourteen-, fifteen-year-old white country girls who came to Saint Louis seeking fame and fortune. And also, for obvious reasons, the Squad came down hard on badger operations: A guy takes a girl to a hotel room expecting to get a five-dollar piece of ass; instead he finds some guy waving a badge at him, saying he's a cop, and wanting twenty bucks not to run him in and cause him severe public humiliation. And then there were the fucking unwashed hillbillies who came to Saint Louis to find a job, found that a job meant work, and decided it was easier to rent out their fourteen-year-old daughters to make their moonshine money.

These guys really offended Officer George Hart's sense of decency.

Hart had been working plain-clothes Vice about six months when he was awarded his first citation. He was in a bar down by the river, just nosing around, when two guys stuck it up.

One of them had a.38 Smith and Wesson Military and Police, the other one had a.22 Colt Woodsman. Hart wasn't going to do anything about it except remember what they looked like, but a uniform walked in off the street and tried to be a hero. When the robbers shot him, there was nothing Hart could do but shoot the robbers. He killed one; the other would be paralyzed for the rest of his life.

Four months after that, he was in another bar, just nosing around, when a guy came looking for his wife. He found her where he thought she would be, with some other guy, and shot her. He then saw Hart taking out his pistol and was making up his mind whether to shoot the boyfriend or Hart, when Hart shot him.

He already had a citation, so they bent a few civil service rules and made him a detective and kept him in Vice.

He was a detective three weeks when he tried to arrest an unimpressive-looking guy he caught in the act of selling a bag of marijuana leaves. Confident of both his professional skill and his unusual strength, he attempted to make the felony arrest without calling for assistance from other police officers.

Not only did the marijuana vendor successfully resist arrest, he sent Detective Hart to Sacred Heart Hospital with a broken nose, several broken ribs, and three broken fingers on his right hand. When he was subsequently apprehended, it was learned that he had been taught the fine points of street fighting in Tijuana, Mexico, where he was ultimately deported.

After Hart's broken appendages and ribs were healed, Sergeant Raphael Ramirez gave Detective Hart off-duty instruction in the manly art of self-defense as practiced in the Mexican-American neighborhoods of El Paso, Texas, where Sergeant Ramirez lived before moving to Saint Louis and joining the cops.

Detective Hart proved to be an apt pupil. He was never again injured in the line of duty.

Then the goddamn war came along.

Near the courthouse there was a bar, Mooney's, where most of the patrons were either cops or otherwise connected with the law enforcement community. Civilians (unless they were ,lounge, female, and attractive) quickly sensed they were not welcome. The other exception was members of the Armed-forces, possibly because they are by definition not civilians.

The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps recruiting offices were in the courthouse, and the enlisted personnel of these offices fell quite at home in Mooney's. Over a period of time, Detective Hart struck up an acquaintance with Staff Sergeant Howard H. Wertz, USMC, one of the Marine recruiters.

They were of an age, shared a Teutonic background, and even looked very much alike. When they were together, Detective Hart talked to Sergeant Wertz about the cops, and Sergeant Wertz talked to Detective Hart about The Marine Corps.

Now and again the question of Detective Hart's possible military service came up. Though it had been decided early on that police work was an essential service and its practitioners exempt from the draft, in Sergeant Wertz's judgment the draft deferment for police officers would not last long. Soon they too would be summoned by their friends and neighbors to military service.

After a while Sergeant Wertz suggested to Detective Hart that he might not have to worry anyhow, since he might not pass the physical examination. Whether Hart was fit for service or not, Sergeant Wertz suggested, would be a good thing to know. A few days after that, he told Detective Hart he had a buddy at the Armed Forces Induction Center who would run Detective Hart through the examination process "off the books," as a special favor.

The results of the physical were a mixed blessing. Detective Hart was in really splendid physical condition, which was nice to know. At the same time they were a little unnerving, for if Sergeant Wertz was correct and the police deferment was eliminated, Hart would go into the Armed Forces.

Perhaps it might be a good idea, Sergeant Wertz suggested, to start looking around to see what Detective Hart could get from the services in exchange for his immediate enlistment, rather than waiting for his Draft Board to send him the Your Friends and Neighbors Have Selected You postcard.

Two days after that, Sergeant Wertz told his friend Detective Hart the good news: The Marine Corps just happened to be looking for a few good men with police backgrounds who would be utilized in law enforcement areas. The only problem was that "The Program" (as Sergeant Wertz called it) was nearly full and about to close. So Hart would have to make up his mind quickly.

When Detective Hart consulted him, his father was enthusiastic: "If you have to go, George, and it looks like you'll have to, that's the way to do it. Otherwise they'll hand you a rifle and turn you into cannon fodder." Private Hart was in The Marine Corps three days when he learned from a personnel clerk at Parris Island that the Marines not only did not have a law enforcement recruitment program, they'd never had one. In other words, he was like anyone else who had enlisted in The Corps: He'd be assigned where The Corps decided he would be of the greatest value. In his case it was The Marine Corps' intention to hand him a rifle, teach him how to use it, and assign him to la rifle company as a rifleman-a/k/a cannon fodder.

One of the reasons Private Hart looked forward to graduation from Parris Island was that afterward he would be given a short leave. During that time he planned to return to Saint Louis, locate Staff Sergeant Wertz, and break both of the sonofabitch's arms.

But Staff Sergeant Wertz was not the only Marine noncom who, in his view, deserved such treatment.

Private George F. Hart, USMCR, was in the fifth week of his recruit training when he decided to render as-painful-as-possible bodily harm to Corporal Clayton C. Warren, USMC. He did not actually intend to kill Corporal Warren, who was one of the assistant drill instructors of his platoon, but the thought of breaking Corporal Warren's arm was, well, satisfying.

Though every man in the platoon had the same wish, Private Hart believed he was the only one with the necessary expertise to do it and get away with it. He wished to do so for two reasons. One was personal, and the other was For the Good of the Service (at least as he saw it).

And today was the day.

The first time Private Hart saw Corporal Clayton C. Warren at Parris Island, he thought the guy was one of the hillbilly pimps he had made in Saint Louis. Warren bore an astonishing physical resemblance-tall, bony, sharp-featured, no chin, and a large, fluid Adam's apple-to a shitkicker from Arkansas or someplace like that who had prostituted his fifteen-year-old wife rather than get a goddamn job.

And when Corporal Warren first opened his mouth, thus proving he was indeed a hillbilly shitkicker, the likeness was even more astonishing. Hart had to remind himself that his shitkicking hillbilly was doing three-to-five; it couldn't possibly be the same man.

Hart understood the necessity and value of the rigorous recruit training program of The Marine Corps. In his judgment, it had three aims: First was to bring the recruits up to a standard of physical strength and endurance which would permit them to fight the enemy; many of them had never lifted anything much heavier than a schoolbook. Second, it was intended to give them the necessary military skills, from the obvious (how to accurately fire and care for a rifle) to the less obvious (how to live in the field on nothing but what you carried on your back). Many of Hart's fellow recruits had never held a firearm until they came to Parris Island; and they'd never slept anywhere but on a soft bed.

Third, and most important, was to teach a bunch of civilians discipline: that is, to do whatever they were told to do, to the best of their ability, whenever they were told to do it. This was surely the most difficult training task the drill instructors and their assistants faced, and Hart was well aware that not many students were going to like the curriculum.

All of this having been said, it was Hart's judgment that The Marine Corps had made a mistake (despite the Parris Island Holy Writ that this kind of mistake was not possible). They had placed at least part of the responsibility of turning civilians into Marines into the hands of a semiliterate, sadistic, hillbilly shitkicker who got his rocks off by humiliating and physically abusing anyone he suspected of having more brains than he did. That meant all but one or two of the men in the platoon.

Corporal Clayton C. Warren, USMC, was not only a really vicious prick, but a dangerous one. On three occasions, for instance, Hart saw him actually trip men running up an inclined log on the obstacle course. One of the men broke his arm; it was only luck that the other two suffered only minor sprains and abrasions.

And he took delight in making trainees run around the drill field with their rifles held over their heads until they collapsed from exhaustion. A few times this was punishment for some sort of offense, but often it was because Corporal Clayton C. Warren, USMC, just liked to see people run until they dropped.

There was a long list of similar outrages, all falling under the category of acts against the general Good of the Service.

Hart's personal troubles with Corporal Clayton C. Warren, USMC, were based on Warren's notion that Hart was a fucking college boy. This category of Homos sapiens seemed to trigger Warren's most intense feelings of inferiority, and thus his most vicious impulses.

There were a dozen fucking college boys in the platoon-real and perceived: Corporal Clayton C. Warren's definition of a fucking college boy was anyone older than eighteen who could read without moving his lips. And yet -even taking into consideration that Warren was likely making him paranoid-Hart was convinced that Warren had him identified as the most offensive of all the fucking college boys.

Warren's actual offenses against Hart himself began with blows to the face (three times, with his fist); to the solar plexus (three times); to the kidneys (twice). He'd kicked Hart in the shins (three times); in the head, while doing push-ups (twice); and once in the side during a rest break.

The also described Hart's relationship with his mother in words that Hart found insufferable-even considering the source, and his experience as a vice cop.

According to the mimeographed Training Schedule thumbtacked to the barracks wall, the second period of post-lunch instruction today was Hand-to-Hand Combat. There was a similar period yesterday. Hand-to-Hand Combat was one of Corporal Warren's favorites. He could hurt people with the blessing of The United States Marine Corps.

Yesterday he dislocated the shoulders of three recruits, skillfully stopping just short of pulling their joints apart. Still, he'd strained them enough to leave enough pain to last for days.

He also ground into the dirt the faces of each student he honored with Hands-on Instruction-with sufficient force to embed pebbles and twigs in their skin.

Corporal Warren's method of instruction went something like this: The trainees would be seated in a semicircle on the ground; Corporal Warren would select one of them-"You, motherfucker!" He'd then instruct the trainee in the Approved Marine Corps Technique of killing the enemy with a knife..

The trainee would be handed a sheathed trench knife. Similarly armed, Corporal Warren would attack the trainee. In a second or so the trainee would find himself on his back, with Corporal Warren's sheathed knife pressing painfully against his Adam's apple.

"You're dead, cocksucker!" Next Corporal Warren would tell the trainee to attack him, to demonstrate the proper method of defense against a knife attack.

"Now really try to kill me, shitface!" The trainee-who was not only in awe of Corporal Warren but traumatized by the situation-would make a clumsy attempt to stab Warren with his sheathed knife. He would immediately find himself on his back, with Warren's knee grinding one side of his face into the ground, or else on his stomach, with Warren twisting his arm to the point of shoulder dislocation.

"You're dead, you stupid motherfucker!" Private Hart noticed with satisfaction that today's instruction period was going very much like yesterday's. He also noticed that the drill instructor, who sometimes watched Corporal Warren in action, seemed to be occupied with the other half of the platoon.

"You, college boy!" Corporal Warren said, indicating Private Hart.

Private Hart rose to his feet. Corporal Warren threw him a sheathed trench knife.

"Try to kill me, college boy!" Private Hart successfully resisted the terrible urge to obey the order, and moments afterward found himself on his back with Corporal Warren's sheathed knife pressing painfully against his Adam's apple.

"Fucking fairy motherfucker, you're dead!" He spat in Private Hart's face and then contemptuously got off him.

Private Hart had dropped his knife.

"Pick it up, college boy, and really try to kill me!" Hart picked up the knife. He crouched and spread his arms, then advanced on Corporal Warren.

Warren smiled.

Private Hart threw the trench knife from his right hand to his left. When Corporal Warren's eyes followed, for a split second, the passage of the knife, Private Hart kicked Corporal Warren in the groin.

As Warren's eyes, now registering shock, returned to him, Hart took one step toward him, grabbed his right arm, twisted it, flipped Warren over his extended right leg, and followed him to the ground as he fell. He placed his knee between Warren's wrist and elbow and tensed his muscles to break the arm.

He felt a hard blow in the back, between the shoulder blades, and felt himself flying through the air.

What the hell?

His face slid a foot through the dirt and pebbles. The breath was knocked out of him.

He heard the crunch of boots on the dirt and a pair of highly shined service shoes and the cuff of sharply creased khaki pants appeared in his view.

"On your feet!"

He recognized the voice of the drill sergeant before he saw his face.

Shit, he saw what happened. He kicked me.

Private Hart, breathing hard, came to attention.

"Look at me," the drill instructor said evenly.

He was a leathery-faced, leanly built staff sergeant in his early thirties. His eyes were gray and cold.

"Try me, tough guy," the drill instructor said, and Hart felt a jabbing at his stomach. He looked down and saw that he was being offered a trench knife, butt first. The sheath had been removed.

He looked into the drill instructor's face again.

He looks, Hart thought, more contemptuous than angry.

"Go on, tough guy, take it," the drill instructor said, and jabbed Hart in the stomach again with the butt of the trench knife.

Hart shook his head and blurted what came into his mind: "I don't have anything against you." The drill instructor's eyes examined him with renewed interest.

"Meaning you think you could hurt me?"

Again, Hart blurted what came into his mind: "I don't know. But I've got no reason to cut you."

There was a moment's silence.

"'Ten'hut!" the-drill instructor barked. "Fow-wud, Harch!

Double-time, Harch!" Hart's compliance was Pavlovian. He started double-timing across the parade ground. After a moment, he became aware that the drill instructor was double-timing a step or two behind him, just within his peripheral vision.

He came to the end of the parade ground, then crossed a narrow macadam road and moved between two barracks buildings.

"Column left, Harch!" the drill instructor ordered when they reached the far end of the long frame building. "Detail, halt!" Hart stopped and stood at attention. The drill instructor stepped in front of him.

What the fuck do I do now? Let him beat me up?

"Who taught you to fight?" the drill instructor demanded, and then, without waiting for a reply, "What did you do before you came in The Corps?"

"I was a cop"

"A cop?"

"A detective," Hart said.

"Where?"

"Saint Louis."

"Were you really going to break his arm?"

"He's a vicious, sadistic sonofabitch," Hart heard himself say. "Yeah, I was going to break his arm. Nobody calls me a motherfucker."

"He's on his way out of here," the drill instructor said.

"Before the war, there's no way an asshole like Warren would have made corporal, much less been assigned here. But he is here, and you just made him-made a DI-look like an asshole in front of the platoon. Maybe I should have let you break his arm we could have said it was an accident." Jesus Christ, he's talking to me like a human being.

"I'll fix it with the Captain somehow," the drill sergeant said, obviously thinking out loud. "If I can get you transferred to another platoon, can you keep your mouth shut about what happened?" He looked intently at Hart, as if finally making up his mind.

Hart nodded.

"Thank you," he said.

"Stick your thanks up your ass. I'm not doing this because I like you.

I'm doing it because it's the best thing for The Corps."

(Two)

ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY COASTWATCHER ESTABLISHMENT

TOWNSVILLE, QUEENSLAND

30 AUGUST 1942 The letters USMC were stenciled on both sides of the hood of the gray 1941 Studebaker President, and a stenciled Marine Corps globe and anchor insignia were on each rear door.

The driver was a Marine, a tall, muscular man in his early thirties. He wore a green fore-and-aft cap adorned with the Marine insignia and the golden oak leaf of a major. Otherwise, he was substantially out of uniform. Instead of the forest green tunic prescribed for officers during the winter months in Australia, he wore a baggy, off-white, rough woolen thigh-length jacket that was equipped with a hood and was fastened with wooden pegs inserted through rope loops. The letters RAN, for Royal Australian Navy, were stenciled on the chest.

The passenger, a lean, sharp-featured man of about the same age, wore an identical duffel coat and a Royal Australian Navy officer's brimmed cap, the gold (actually brass) braid of which was both frayed and green with tarnish. There was no visible means to determine his rank.

Lieutenant Commander Eric Feldt, RAN, Commanding Officer of the Royal Australian Navy Coastwatcher Establishment, turned to Major Edward J. Banning, USMC, Commanding Officer of USMC Special Detachment 14, gestured out the window, and inquired, "Is that for you?" Banning, who had heard the engines, leaned forward to look out the window, and saw what he expected to see. A United States Army Air Corps C-47 had begun its approach to the landing field.

"I don't expect anyone," Banning said.

"But we couldn't expect the Asshole to let us know he was coming, could we?" Under practically any other circumstances, Major Ed Banning's sense of military propriety would have been deeply offended to hear a brother officer call another officer an anal orifice. And he would have been especially offended when the insult came from a foreigner, and the officer and gentleman so crudely characterized was a full colonel of the U.S. Marine Corps.

But at the moment, Major Banning was not at all offended. For one thing, he had a profound professional admiration and a good deal of personal affection for Commander Feldt. And for another, so far as Banning was concerned, Feldt's vulgar characterization fit to a T Colonel Lewis R. Mitchell, USMC, Special Liaison Officer between the Commander in Chief Pacific Ocean Areas (CINCPAC-Admiral Chester W. Nimitz) and the Supreme Commander, Southwest Pacific (SWPOA-General Douglas MacArthur).

Banning knew far more about Colonel Lewis R. Mitchell than Mitchell would have dreamed possible, including the fact that Mitchell had been given his present assignment in the belief that he could do less damage to the war effort there than he had been causing as one of a half dozen colonels assigned to the Personnel Division at Headquarters, USMC.

"You really think it's Mitchell?"

"Who else would it be? That's a sodding Dakota, not a puddle-jumper. If it were your Nip, he'd be in a puddlejumper." The "your Nip" reference was to First Lieutenant Hon Song Do, Signal Corps, U.S. Army.

"I'm telling you for the last fucking time, Eric!" Banning flared furiously. "Don't you ever refer to Pluto as a Nip, mine or anyone else's!"

"Sorry," Feldt said, sounding genuinely contrite. It did not satisfy Banning.

"For one thing, he's a serving officer. For another, he's a friend of mine. And finally, for Christ's sake, he's Korean, not Japanese." Pluto Hon had made a good many trips by puddle-jumper from MacArthur's headquarters to Townsville to deliver to Banning classified messages that could not be entrusted to ordinary couriers. It was a long way to fly in a Piper Cub. Pluto Hon was a good man, a good officer, and he was not a fucking Nip.

"I'm really sorry, old boy," Feldt said. "That just slipped out"

"That's your fucking trouble!"

Feldt did not respond.

Banning decided he had gone far enough. In fact, he was chagrined that he had lost his temper.

"Well, what do you say?" he asked. "Should we go down to the field and see if that is the Asshole?"

"Sod him," Feldt said. "Let him walk."

"We'd just have to send one of the men back for him," Banning replied as he braked and prepared to turn around.

"And if one of my guys were out of uniform, say wearing one of these RAN sleeved blankets, the Asshole would have apoplexy."

Feldt and Banning had been en route from the Coastwatcher Establishment antennae farm to their headquarters when Feldt had spotted the airplane. The airfield was in between; it took them only a few minutes to reach it.

By then the C-47 had landed and taxied to the transient ramp. The door opened as Banning stopped the Studebaker at the hurricane fence between the parking lot and the field itself.

As Banning walked to the policeman guarding the gate, Colonel Lewis R. Mitchell climbed down the short ladder, tugged at his trench coat to make sure it was in order, and marched toward the terminal.

He looks like an illustration.- "Field Grade Officer, Dress Uniform, Winter, " Banning thought.

He intercepted him and saluted crisply, "Good afternoon, Sir." Colonel Mitchell returned the salute but said nothing.

What he's doing is mentally composing something memorable to say to me about the duffel coat.

Colonel Mitchell's lips worked as if he was distinctly uncomfortable.

"Major Banning," he said finally, "a communication has arrived which I have been instructed to place before you." What the hell is he talking about?

"Yes, Sir?" Mitchell reached into the inside pocket of his blouse, removed an envelope, handed it to Banning, and then adjusted his uniform again.

The envelope was unsealed. It contained a single sheet of paper. From its feel, even before he saw the red TOP SECRET classification stamped on it, Banning knew that it had come from the Cryptographic Room. The paper was treated somehow to aid combustion. When a match was touched to it, it almost exploded.

TOP SECRET

URGENT

HEADQUARTERS USMC WASH DC 29 AUG 1942 1105

TO: HEADQUARTERS SOUTHWEST PACIFIC AREA

ATTN: (EYES ONLY) COLONEL L. R. MITCHELL USMC

1. Reference your radio 25Aug42 subject, "Request for clarification of role SWPOA-CINCPAC liaison officer vis-a-vis USMC Special Detachment 14 and RAN Coastwatcher Establishment, which has been referred to HQ USMC for reply.

2. You are advised that you have no repeat no role vis-a-vis USMC Special Detachment 14 or RAN Coastwatcher Establishment. You are further advised that Commanding Officer USMC SPECDET 14 is under sole and direct repeat sole and direct command of the undersigned and therefore not subject to orders of any USMC officer in CINCPAC or FPOA, regardless of position or rank.

1. In order to insure that there is absolutely misunderstanding, you are directed to personally make the contents of this message known to Major Edward Banning, USMC; LTCOM Eric A. Feldt, ; and 1st Lt S.D. Hon, SigC, USA.

It Hon is directed to inform the undersigned )f date and time he has seen this message. Major Banning is directed to inform the undersigned of -the date and time he has seen this message, and to inform the undersigned when its contents were made known to LTCOM Feldt. A consolidated reply, classified Top Secret, will be dispatched by urgent radio.

5. You are further advised that your raising of this question has called into doubt your ability to perform the duties of your present assignment.

FOR THE COMMANDANT

HORACE W. T. FORREST

MAJOR GEN, USMC

ASSISTANT CHIEF OF STAFF, G2, USMC

TOP SECRET

Banning raised his eyes to Colonel Mitchell's.

"Yes, Sir," he said.

"I apparently overstepped my authority and responsibility as I understood it..." Mitchell said.

Jesus Christ, I actually feel sorry for him.

"... and if an apology is in order, Major, please consider one extended."

"No, Sir. No apology is required, Sir. They should have briefed you."

"Is that Commander Feldt in the car?"

"Yes, Sir."

"If you will give me that message back, I will show it to Commander Feldt and then see about getting back to Melbourne."

"Colonel," Banning said, "unless you have some pressing business in Melbourne, why don't you spend the night with us, and let us show you what we're doing here?"

"In light of that message, that strikes me as-"

"Sir, it was a question of Need to Know. With respect, Sir, you have not been cleared for what we're doing here."

"I have a TOP SECRET clearance," Mitchell said. "I'm the liaison officer between the two senior headquarters in the Pacific, and I'm the senior Marine officer present at SWPOA." Banning, aware that he was about to lose his temper, spoke very carefully.

"Colonel, you have two choices. You can get back on that airplane or you can spend the night with us, let us show you why this is all so important."

"You had something to do with that message I just got, didn't you, Major? It was not just a reply to my radio, was it?"

"Sir, when you told me what you wanted me to do, and I told you what you asked was impossible, and when I learned you had sent that radio, I sent a back-channel message-"

"Who told you about my radio? That Oriental cryptographer?"

"That Oriental cryptographer"? Fuck you, Asshole!

Banning came to attention.

"Sir, I will bring this message to Commander Feldt's attention and arrange to have the confirmation of its receipt radioed to General Forrest. Good afternoon, Sir." He saluted, and without waiting for it to be returned, executed a perfect about-face movement and then marched toward the Studebaker.

"Now see here, Banning!" Colonel Mitchell called after him.

Banning reached the Studebaker, got behind the wheel, and drove off.

"The Asshole, I gather, is not coming to tea?" Commander Feldt asked.

"Sod him," Major Banning said.

The story that ended with the arrival of Colonel Mitchell in Townsville had its start some months earlier with what Banning now recognized to be a hell of a smart idea on the part of Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. At the beginning of the war, Knox realized that he was going to read very few honest reports on the functioning of Navy in the Pacific so long as those reports were written by Navy captains and admirals.

Knox concluded that if he was going to get anything like what he actually needed, he'd have to find someone who was not a member of the Navy establishment, yet who understood the Pacific and the Navy's responsibilities there. He found him, in spades, in the person of Captain Fleming W. Pickering. In addition to having been an any-tonnage, any-ocean master mariner (hence Captain) since he was twenty-six, Pickering was Chairman of the Board of Pacific and Far East Shipping Corporation.

Pickering, in other words, had all the necessary credentials that Knox required.

It is a sign of Frank Knox's considerable integrity that he actually chose Fleming Pickering for the job; for their initial encounter was not pleasant, Fleming Pickering being a notably outspoken man with very strong views indeed. They met in connection with Pickering's refusal to sell his forty-two-vessel cargo fleet to the Navy (he did sell the Navy his twelve-vessel passenger-liner fleet). During their meeting (it took place not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor), Pickering told Knox that he should have resigned after that fiasco, and they should have shot the admirals in charge.

Peace between the two was arranged by their mutual friend, Senator Richmond F. Fowler (R., Cal.), and Pickering was commissioned into the Navy as a Captain on Knox's personal staff. He left almost immediately for the Pacific, where he filed regular reports on what the Navy and Marine Corps were actually doing-as opposed to what they wanted Frank Knox to know about.

Unfettered by the restraints he would have endured had he been under the command of CINCPAC, and with a wide network of friends and acquaintances in Australia and elsewhere in the Far East, Pickering put his nose in wherever he wanted to.

Very soon after he learned of the Royal Australian Navy Coastwatcher Establishment, he realized its great intelligence value. And it didn't take Pickering long after that to realize that he and Lieutenant Commander Eric Feldt were both just about equally contemptuous of the brass hats the Navy sent to work with the Coast watchers.

As a result, a lengthy radio message from Pickering to Navy Secretary Knox resulted in the formation of Marine Corps Special Detachment 14, Major Edward S. Banning, commanding, under the Marine Corps Office of Management Analysis (its name was purposely obfuscatory). Banning's mission was not only to get along with Commander Feldt at any cost, but to provide him with whatever personnel, material , and money Feldt felt he could use.

Shortly after he took command of Special Detachment 14, Banning was made aware of one of the great secrets of the war, a secret that Pickering was also privy to.

Navy cryptographers at Pearl Harbor had broken many (but not all) of the codes of the Imperial Japanese General Staff.

Decoded intercepts of these messages were furnished to a very few senior officers (in SWPOA, for instance, only General MacArthur and his intelligence officer, Brigadier General Charles A. Willoughby, got them). The operation had its own security classification: TOP SECRET-MAGIC. And the only cryptographic officer at SWPOA (South West Pacific Ocean Area) cleared to decrypt MAGIC messages was a Ph.D. in mathematics from MIT, First Lieutenant Hon Song Do, Signal Corps, U.S. Army. Banning joined "Pluto" Hon on the MAGIC list, as a stand-in for Pickering.

Meanwhile, Fleming Pickering and Douglas MacArthur grew friendly-bearing in mind that to call any relationship with the General "friendly" might be stretching the truth. It was MacArthur's view (and Pickering agreed with him) that the Navy was telling him (like Frank Knox) only what it wanted him to know, and only when it wanted to tell him. As a result, a radio message brought the appointment of Marine Lieutenant Colonel George F. Dailey as liaison officer between CINCPAC and SWPOA, with orders to keep MacArthur as fully briefed as possible.

Dailey had a second function... though he wasn't aware of it. A former Naval attach‚, he had the security and intelligence background that would enable him, if necessary, to replace Banning as both Commanding Officer of USMC Special Detachment 14 and as Pickering's stand-in on the MAGIC list.

Since he had no Need to Know, he was told little about the Coastwatcher Establishment and nothing whatever of MAGIC-not even of its existence.

That issue became moot when the intelligence officer of the First Marine Division was killed in the opening days of the Guadalcanal operation. Officers at Headquarters USMC Personnel, unaware of Dailey's standby role as Banning's replacement, saw only a qualified replacement for the dead First Marine G-2. And so they ordered Dailey to Guadalcanal.

And either taking care of one of their own or (in Banning's judgment) getting rid of the sonofabitch-they ordered Colonel Lewis R. Mitchell to Australia to replace Lieutenant Colonel Dailey.

By the time Mitchell arrived, Captain Pickering had gone to Guadalcanal (where he figured he would be more useful than he was in Melbourne). With Pickering's departure Banning lost his own one-man-removed access to Navy Secretary Knox.

And he also had to deal with Mitchell. Colonel Mitchell might not have been a problem except that he turned out to be what Banning considered the most dangerous of men, a stupid officer with ambition.

Soon after his arrival, Mitchell somehow learned of a priority air shipment of radio equipment Banning had ordered for Feldt from the United States. In short order he demanded to know: what the equipment was to be used for; why it was necessary to have it shipped with the highest air priority; why he had not, as Senior Marine Officer present, been consulted; what was this half-assed Coastwatcher operation all about anyway; and, since the United States was paying all the bills, why a U.S. officer was not in charge.

Banning, as politely as possible, told him he did not have the Need to Know.

That resulted in a radio message from Mitchell to CINCPAC "requesting clarification of his role vis-a-vis USMC Special Detachment 14 and the Australian Coastwatcher organization." When Pluto Hon showed this to Banning and asked what he should do about it, Banning told him to delay transmission for twenty-four hours while he considered his choices.

Banning saw two options: He could go directly to General MacArthur. Or he could send a back-channel message to the Office of Management Analysis.

On the one hand, going to MacArthur could raise more problems than it solved: MacArthur believed in the chain of command. Since colonels are de facto smarter than majors, majors do not question what colonels do.

On the other hand, back-channel messages are not filed and therefore do not have to be phrased in military-acceptable terminology:

URGENT FROM

CO USMC SPECDET 14

VIA CINCPAC MAGIC

TO MARINE OFFICE MANAGEMENT ANALYSIS

EYES ONLY COLONEL RICKABEE

MITCHELL REALLY DANGEROUS X HE WILL SEND MESSAGE CINCPAC TOMORROW REQUESTING CLARIFICATION

OF HIS ROLE VISAVIS EVERYTHING HERE X CAN YOU GET HIM OFF MY BACK X REGARDS X BANNING END

[Three]

THE FOSTER LAFAYETTE HOTEL

WASHINGTON, D.C.

1415 HOURS 31 AUGUST 1942

Senator Richmond F. Fowler (R., Cal.), was a silver-haired, erect sixty-two-year-old, Despite his attire -he wore a sleeveless undershirt and baggy seersucker trousers held up by suspenders- he still managed to look dignified when he opened the door of his apartment himself in response to an imperious knock.

Fowler occupied a six-room suite on the eighth floor of the Foster Lafayette. It was a corner suite, and so half its windows gave him an unimpeded view of the White House on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue. Though the suite's annual rental was not quite covered by his Senatorial salary, this was not a problem. The Senator had inherited from his father The San Francisco Courier-Herald, nine smaller newspapers, and six radio stations. And it was more or less accurately gossiped that his wife and her brother owned two square blocks of downtown San Francisco and several million acres of timberland in Washington and Oregon.

A tall, distinguished-looking man in his early forties was standing in the corridor. He was wearing a khaki uniform, shirt, trousers, and overseas cap. The U.S. Navy insignia and a silver eagle were pinned to the cap, and silver eagles were on his collar. The right armpit area of the shirt was dark with sweat. The left sleeve had been cut from the shirt at the shoulder to accommodate a heavy plaster cast which covered the arm from the shoulder to the wrist.

The two men looked at each other for a long time before Senator Fowler finally spoke.

"I am so glad to see you, you crazy sonofabitch, that I can't even be angry."

"May I come in, then?" the other man asked with gentle sarcasm.

"Are you all right, Fleming?" Fowler asked, concern coloring his voice.

"When I get out of these fucking clothes, and you get me something cold-and heavily alcoholic-I will be."

"You want to get in bed? Should I call a doctor?"

"I want a very large glass of orange juice, with ice, and a large hooker of gin," Captain Fleming Pickering, USNR, said, as he walked into the sitting room of the suite. "I have been thinking about that for hours."

"Can you have alcohol?"

"Hey, I have a broken arm. That's all."

"A compound fracture of the arm," Senator Fowler said.

"Plus, I have been told, a number of other unnatural openings in the body." with his good hand Pickering started to shove an overstuffed chair across the room.

"What are you doing? Let me do that!" Fowler said and walked quickly to him.

"Right in front of the air-conditioning duct, if you please," Pickering said.

"You'll catch cold," Fowler said.

Pickering ignored him. He took off his cap, tossed it onto a couch, then unbuttoned and removed his shirt and dropped it onto the floor. In a moment his khaki trousers followed.

Fowler looked at him with mingled resignation and alarm.

Pickering suddenly marched into one of the bedrooms and came back a moment later with a sheet he had obviously torn from the bed. He started to drape it over the upholstered chair.

Fowler, seeing what he wanted to do, snatched it from him and arranged it more neatly.

Pickering collapsed into the chair.

"Anything else I can get you, Flem? Are you in pain?"

"How about a footstool and a pillow?" Pickering asked.

"And of course the iced orange juice with gin." Fowler delivered the footstool and the pillow, which Pickering placed on the arm of the chair, and then he lowered his encasted arm onto it.

"You look like hell, You're as gray... as a battleship."

"I was feeling fine until they opened the door of the airplane and that goddamned humidity swept in like a tidal wave," he said. "I honest to God think the humidity is worse in Washington than it is in Borneo. Or Hanoi."

"You really want a drink?"

"It will make the gray go away, trust me." Fowler shook his head and then walked into the kitchen, returning with a bowl of ice and a silver pitcher of orange juice.

He went to a bar against the wall, put ice and orange juice in a large glass, and picked up a quart bottle of Gilbey's gin.

"I don't feel comfortable giving you this gin."

"Please don't make me walk over there and do it myself." Fowler shrugged and splashed gin into the glass. He stirred it with a glass stick and then walked to Pickering and handed it to him.

"I knew that sooner or later you would turn me into a criminal," Fowler said.

"Meaning what?" Pickering asked, and then took several deep swallows of the drink.

"Harboring and assisting a deserter is a felony."

"Don't be absurd. All I did was leave the hospital. My orders permit me to go when and where I please."

"I don't think that includes this. The hospital didn't plan to release you for at least another two weeks."

"Yeah, they told me."

"Does Patricia know about it?"

"We stopped for fuel at Saint Louis. I called her from there."

"And what did she say?"

"She was unkind," Pickering said.

"Are you going to tell me what this is all about?"

"Well, I was getting bored in the hospital."

"That's not it, Flem."

"I want out of the Navy. I told Frank that when I saw him in California. When nothing happened, I tried to call him. But I can't get the sonofabitch on the telephone." Frank Knox was Secretary of the Navy.

"Did he tell you he'd let you do that?"

"He said we would talk about it when I got out of the hospital. I am now out of the hospital."

"I don't think it's going to happen. You were commissioned for the duration plus six months. What makes you think the Navy will let you out?"

"The Navy does what Frank tells it to. That's why they call him `Mr. Secretary."

"What do you plan to do, enlist in The Marines?"

"Come on, Richmond."

"Well, what?"

"Go back to running the company. That way I could make a bona fide contribution to the war."

"Why do I think I'm not getting the truth?" Pickering started to get out of the chair.

"What are you doing?"

"I need another of these," Pickering said, holding up his glass.

Fowler was surprised, and concerned, to see that he had emptied it.

"I don't think so," Fowler said.

"Richmond, for Christ's sake. I'm a big boy."

"Oh, God. Stay where you are. I'll get it for you." Making the second drink just about exhausted the orange juice. Fowler was about to call down for a fresh pitcher when Pickering said, "I want to see Pick before he goes over there." That, Fowler decided, sounds like the truth He carried the glass to Pickering and handed it to him.

"Well?"

"Thank you."

"That's not what I mean. You wouldn't let Knox send Pick out to the hospital. For God's sake, he doesn't even know you're home. Or that you've been wounded."

"It would upset him."

"That's what sons are for, to be upset when their fathers are wounded."

"The odds are strongly against Pick coming through this war."

"Every father feels that way, Flem. The truth is that most people survive a war. I don't know what the percentage is, but I would bet that his odds are nine to one, maybe ninety-nine to one, to make it." "Most fathers haven't been where I have been, and seen what I have seen.

And most sons are not Marine fighter pilots.

Jesus, do you think I like facing this?"

"I just think you're overstating the situation," Fowler said, a little lamely.

"Just before the Gregory was hit, her captain told me what a fine airplane the F4F is. It's probably the last thing he ever said; he was dead a minute later. He was trying to do what you're trying to do, make the Daddy feel a little better. It didn't work then and it's not working now. But I appreciate the thought."

"Goddamn it, Flem, I'm calling it like I see it."

"So am I, goddamn it, and I'm calling it how I see it, not how I would like it to be."

"Well, I think you're wrong," Pickering shrugged and took another swallow of the orange juice and gin, "Have I still got some uniforms here?"

"No, I gave them to the Salvation Army. Of course you do."

"How about having the house tailor sent up here? I need to have the sleeves cut out of some shirts."

"Sure."

"I mean now, Richmond."

"You're leaving? You just got here."

"I want to go see Frank. To do that, I'll need something more presentable than what I walked in here wearing."

"Seeing Frank can wait until tomorrow. For that matter, I'll call him and ask him to come here."

"Call downstairs for the tailor. Do it my way."

"Yes, Sir, Captain," Fowler said. He walked to a table and started to pick up the telephone. Instead he picked up a copy of The Washington Star and carried it back to Pickering.

"Here's the paper," he said, unfolding it for him and laying it in his lap.

There were two major headlines:

BATTLE RAGES ON GUADALCANAL WILLKIE HEADS OVERSEAS

A photo of a Consolidated B-24 four-engine bomber converted to a long-range transport was over the caption,

Republican Party head Wendell Willkie will travel in this Army Air Corps transport on his around-the-world trip as personal representative of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He will visit England, North Africa, China and the Soviet Union.

"There are not enough bombers to send to the Pacific," Pickering said bitterly. "But there are enough to give one to a goddamn politician to go all over and get in the goddamned way." Fowler ignored him.

"Are you hungry, Fleming? Have you eaten?"

"No, and no. But I suppose I'd better have something. How about having them send up steak and eggs?"

Fowler nodded picked up the telephone. He called the concierge and asked him to send up the tailor, and then called room service and ordered steak and eggs for Pickering. After a moment's indecision he added, "And send two pitchers of orange juice, too, please." He walked back to Pickering, thinking he could turn the pages of the Star for him. Pickering had fallen asleep. His head sagged forward onto his chest. His face was still gray.

"Christ, Flem," Fowler said softly. He walked into the bedroom and came back with a light blanket, which he draped over him, and then he went to the air conditioner and directed its flow away from Pickering.

Then he walked to his own bedroom, in a far corner of the apartment, and closed the door. He took a small address book from the bedside table, found the number he was looking for, d picked up the telephone.

"Office of the Secretary of the Navy, Chief Daniels speaking."

"This is Senator Fowler. May I speak to Mr. Knox, please?"

"One moment, please, Senator. I'll see if he's available."

"Richmond?"

"He's here, Frank."

"Let me speak with him."

"He's asleep. More accurately, he passed out in an armchair in my sitting room."

"How is he?"

"He looks like hell."

"Shall I send a doctor over there?"

"I don't think that's quite necessary. And there's one in the hotel if it should be."

"Do you have any idea what this is all about? What's he up to?"

"Two things. Apparently, you told him you would discuss his getting out of the Navy when he got out of the hospital. He says he is now out of the hospital."

"I'd hoped he would forget that."

"He says he wants to go back to running Pacific and Far East Shipping so that he can make a bona fide contribution to the war effort."

"I wonder what he thinks he's been doing so far?" Secretary Knox asked, and then went on, without waiting for a reply.

"There are a number of reasons that's not possible. I suppose I should have told him that when I saw him. But he was a sick man..."

"He's still a sick man. I told him, for what it's worth, that I didn't think you'd let him out."

"It's now out of my hands, if you take my meaning." Fowler took his meaning. There was only one man in Washington who could override Frank Knox's decisions as Secretary of the Navy. He was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

"You told him?"

"He's being Machiavellian again. He has his own plans for Pickering."

Fowler waited for Knox to elaborate. He did not.

"He is also very anxious to see his son," Fowler said. "His idea is to see you, get out of the Navy, and then go to Florida."

"I offered to have the boy flown to San Diego!"

"I think he wants to see him alone. He's managed to convince himself that the boy will not come through the war."

"He's not the only father who feels that way. You heard what our mutual friend's son has been up to?" That was an unmistakable reference to James Roosevelt, a Marine Corps Captain. Captain Roosevelt had recently participated in the raid on Makin Island.

The Marine Corps had somewhat reluctantly formed the 1st and 2nd Raider Battalions. They were the President's answer to the British Commandos. The 1st was one of the units participating in the Guadalcanal operation. At about the same time, the son of the President of the United States was paddling ashore from a submarine with elements of the 2nd Raiders to attack Japanese forces on Makin Island.

"I also heard the Germans have taken Stalin's son prisoner.

Do you think our mutual friend-make that `acquaintance' has considered the ramifications of that?"

"I have brought it to his attention," Knox said, then went on:

"Technically, I suppose you know, Fleming Pickering is AWOL."

"I don't think you could make the charge stick. And he has a lot of friends in high places."

"And doesn't he know it?" Knox said, and then went on, again without waiting for a response: "I'm on my way to the White House. I'll get back to you, Richmond. Keep him there.

I don't care how, keep him there."

"I'll do what I can," Fowler said, and hung up.

[One]

HEADQUARTERS,

2ND RAIDER BATTALION

CAMP CATLIN, TERRITORY OF HAWAII

31 AUGUST 1942

When Gunnery Sergeant Ernest W. Zimmerman, USMC, Company A, 2nd Raider Battalion, was summoned to battalion headquarters, he suspected it had something to do with Sergeant Thomas Michael McCoy, USMCR.

Zimmerman was stocky, round-faced and muscular. And he'd been in The Corps almost exactly seven years, having enlisted as soon as possible after his seventeenth birthday. He'd celebrated his twenty-fourth birthday a week before aboard the submarine USS Nautilus on the way home to Pearl Harbor from the raid on Makin Island. At the time he was nursing a minor, though painful, mortar shrapnel wound in his left buttock.

Sergeant McCoy-four inches taller and forty-two pounds heavier than Gunny Zimmerman-had celebrated his twentyfirst birthday the previous January in San Diego, California.

He was then in transit, en route to the Portsmouth U.S. Naval Prison in the status of a general prisoner. There was little question at his court-martial at Pearl Harbor that he had in fact committed the offense of "assault upon the person of a commissioned officer in the execution of his office by striking him with his fists upon the face and other parts of the body." He had also been fairly charged with doing more or less the same thing to a petty officer of the U.S. Navy in the execution of his office of Shore Patrolman, both offenses having taken place while PFC McCoy was absent without leave from his assignment to the 1st Defense Battalion, Marine Barracks, Pearl Harbor.

The Marine Corps frowns on such activity. Thus PFC McCoy was sentenced to be dishonorably discharged from the Naval Service and to be confined at hard labor for a period of five to ten years.

However, very likely because it was conducted during the immediate post-Pearl Harbor-bombing period when things were quite hectic, the court-martial failed to offer the accused certain procedural aspects of the fair trial required by Rules for the Governance of the Naval Service.

These errors of omission came to light while the Record of Trial was being reviewed by the legal advisers to the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet. It was therefore ordered that the findings and the sentences in the case be set aside.

Another trial was impossible, not only because of the possibility of double jeopardy, but also because the witnesses were by then scattered all over the Pacific.

PFC McCoy was released from the San Diego brig an assigned to the 2nd Raider Battalion, then forming at Camp Elliott just outside San Diego.

There PFC McCoy met Gunnery Sergeant Zimmerman. He almost immediately posed a number of disciplinary problems for Gunny Zimmerman. For instance, while he had apparently learned his lesson about striking those superior to him in the military hierarchy, on two occasions he severely beat up fellow PFCs with whom he had differences of opinion.

But what really annoyed Gunny Zimmerman about PFC McCoy's behavior was that it was seriously embarrassing to a Marine officer. Normally, this would not have bothered Gunny Zimmerman-indeed, under other circumstances, he might have found it amusing-but this particular officer was Second Lieutenant Kenneth R. McCoy, USMCR, PFC McCoy's three-year-older brother. Lieutenant McCoy and Gunny Zimmerman had been friends before the war, when Zimmerman had been a buck sergeant and McCoy a corporal with the 4th Marines in Shanghai.

There were very few people in The Corps who enjoyed Ernie Zimmerman's absolute trust and admiration, and Lieutenant "Killer" McCoy was at the head of that short list.

Since all other means of instilling in PFC McCoy both proper discipline and the correct attitude had apparently failed, Zimmerman decided that it behooved him to rectify the situation himself.

He accomplished this by going to the Camp Elliott slop chute, where he politely asked PFC McCoy if he could have a word with him. He led PFC McCoy to a remote area where they would not be seen. He then removed his jacket (and, symbolically, the chevrons of his rank) and suggested to PFC McCoy that if he thought he was so tough, why not have a go at him?

When PFC McCoy was released from the dispensary four days later-having suffered numerous cuts, bruises, abrasions and the loss of three teeth: after a bad slip in the shower-he'd undergone a near miraculous change of attitude.

The change was not temporary. Within three weeks, with a clear conscience, Gunny Zimmerman recommended PFC McCoy for squad leader. The job carried with it promotion to corporal.

And Corporal McCoy performed admirably on the Makin raid. Because of his size and strength, Zimmerman had given McCoy one of the Boys antitank rifles. The Boys, which looked like an oversize bolt-action rifle, fired a larger (.55 caliber) and even more powerful round than the Browning Heavy.50 caliber machine gun.

Although he could not prove it -there were other Boys rifles around-Zimmerman was convinced that McCoy was responsible for shooting up a Japanese four-engine Kawanishi seaplane so badly that it crashed while trying to take off from the Butaritari lagoon.

Nothing heroic. Just good Marine marksmanship, accomplished when the target was shooting back.

And when they were in the rubber boats trying to get off the beach back to the submarines disaster-McCoy really came through, really acted like a Marine. His had been one of the few boats to make it through the surf, almost certainly because of his enormous strength. Then, when they reached the sub, which was all that was expected of him, McCoy volunteered to go back to the beach for another load-despite his exhaustion.

Again nothing heroic, but good enough to prove that McCoy had the stuff Marine sergeants should be made of. After they were back at Camp Catlin, Colonel Carlson asked him if anyone should get a promotion as a reward for behavior during the raid. The first name Zimmerman gave him was Corporal McCoy's.

Word reached Gunny Zimmerman an hour before his summons to battalion headquarters that Sergeant McCoy had apparently strayed from the path of righteousness. He'd had a telephone call from another old China Marine, now working with the Shore Patrol Detachment in Honolulu. The Shore Patrol sergeant informed him that Sergeant McCoy apparently took offense at a remark made to him by a sergeant of the Army Air Corps. He expressed his displeasure by breaking the sergeant's nose. He then rejected the invitation of the Shore Patrol to accompany them peaceably.

Zimmerman's old China Marine pal told him, not without a certain admiration, that it took six Shore Patrolmen to subdue and transport Sergeant McCoy to the confinement facility. He was now sleeping it off there.

There seemed little doubt that before the day was over Sergeant McCoy would once again be Private McCoy. Unless, of course, Colonel Carlson wanted to make an example of him and bring him before a court-martial.

In Zimmerman's opinion, busting McCoy would be sufficient punishment. He would be humiliated and taught a lesson.

And then in a couple of months they could start thinking about promoting him again.

The facts were that he had been a good corporal and would almost certainly have been a good sergeant.

Good sergeants are hard to find, Zimmerman thought. Sending him to the brig for thirty days will teach him nothing he doesn't already know, and it might make his attitude worse.

With a little bit of luck, maybe the sergeant major, or maybe even one of the officers, will ask me what I think should be done to McCoy. Or maybe even I can take a chance and just tell the sergeant major what I think.

Zimmerman went into battalion headquarters, walked up to sergeant major's desk, and stood waiting while the sergeant or went very carefully over a paper that had been typed up or the Colonel's signature. He finally finished and looked up at Zimmerman.

He smiled.

"How are you, Ernie?" he asked. "How's the ass these days?"

"I sit on the edge of chairs."

"Your Purple Heart came through," the sergeant major said.

"You are now a certified wounded hero."

Is that what this is about? Maybe he hasn't heard about McCoy yet.

"Did you send for Zimmerman?" a voice called from the office. On its door a sign hung, EVANS CARLSON, LTCOL, USMC, COMMANDING.

"He just this second came in, Sir," the sergeant major called back.

Colonel Carlson appeared at his office door. He was lean and tanned, and he was wearing sun- and wash-faded utilities.

"Morning, Gunny," he greeted him. "How's the... damaged area?"

Zimmerman popped to attention.

"Morning, Sir," he said. "No problem, Sir."

"Get yourself a cup of coffee, if you'd like, and come on in. Something's come up."

"Aye, aye, Sir," Zimmerman said.

Though he didn't really want it, he took a cup of coffee. The reason was that he considered the offer-the suggestion-an order, coming as it did from the Colonel. At the same time, the friendliness of the Colonel's gesture made him a little uncomfortable.

Colonel Carlson often made him uncomfortable. Zimmerman was on the edge of being an Old Breed Marine. He hadn't been to Nicaragua or any of the other banana republic wars, but he had been in The Corps seven years, most of that time in China, and in all that time he had never met another lieutenant colonel-for that matter, a major or a captain-who treated enlisted men the way Colonel Carlson did.

It was sort of hard to describe why. It wasn't as if Carlson treated the enlisted men as equals, but neither did he treat them the way they were treated elsewhere in The Corps, the way Zimmerman had been treated for seven years.

Colonel Carlson talked to enlisted Marines-not just the senior staff noncoms, but the privates and the corporals, too- like they were people, not enlisted men. Like he was really interested in what they had to say.

The motto of the Raiders was "Gung Ho!" Most people in the Raiders, even the ones who had been in China and had picked up a little Chinese, thought that meant "Everybody Pull Together." Zimmerman knew better. He spoke pretty good Chinese, three kinds of it. What Gung Ho really meant was more like "Strive for Harmony." When they were training for the Makin Raid back at Camp Elliott, outside `Diego, Zimmerman talked about that with McCoy-Lieutenant McCoy, the Killer, not Sergeant Shit for Brains McCoy, now behind bars in Honolulu.

The Killer spoke even better Chinese than Zimmerman did, plus Japanese and German and Polish and Russian. So he knew what Gung Ho really meant, but he told Zimmerman to keep it to himself.

"What I think is really going on, Ernie," the Killer told him, "is that the Colonel is terrifically impressed with the way the Chinese do things. The Chinese communists, I mean."

"You're not telling me he's a communist?" It would not have surprised Zimmerman at all if the brass had sent Killer McCoy to the 2nd Raider Battalion to see if he thought Colonel Carlson was a communist.

"No. I don't think so. But there are people in The Corps who do."

"Then how come they gave him the Raider Battalion if they think he's a communist?"

"There are also a lot of people who don't think he's a communist, like Captain Roosevelt's father, for example." Captain Roosevelt was Executive Officer of the 2nd Raider Battalion. His father was Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States of America. As a Captain, Colonel Carlson had commanded the detachment of Marines assigned to protect the President at White Sulphur Springs, where the President often went to swim with other people crippled by infantile paralysis.

"We're sort of special Marines, Ernie, Raiders, " the Killer said. "The Colonel thinks that the kind of discipline the Chinese communists have would work better for us than the regular kind."

"We're Marines, not fucking Chinese communists," Zimmerman protested. "Does he really want to do away with ranks and have just leaders and fighters and technicians, and no saluting, and no officers' mess, and the other bullshit that I been hearing?"

"I think he's been talked out of that," McCoy said. "But I know he wants to make sure the enlisted men use their initiative. There's nothing wrong with that, is there?"

"What does that mean, `use their initiative'?" You tell some PFC to fill sandbags and make a wall of them, he does it because you're a sergeant and he's a PFC and PFCs do what sergeants tell them to do. The Colonel figures he'll get a better wall if the sergeant tells the PFC they need a sandbag wall because that will keep people from getting their balls blown off... and then the sergeant helps the PFC make it. Understand?"

"Sounds like bullshit to me."

"That's what I thought when I first heard about it," the Killer said. "But now I suppose I've been converted. Anyway, Ernie, it doesn't make any difference what you think."

"It don't?"

"You're a Marine, a gunny. Marine gunnies do what they're told, right?"

"Fuck you, Ken," Zimmerman said, chuckling.

"That's `fuck you, Lieutenant, Sir,' Sergeant," the Killer replied.

The funny thing, Zimmerman realized, was that over the months he too had become converted to the Colonel's way of doing things. It seemed to work. Everybody in the Raiders did "pull together" or "strive for harmony," depending on how well you spoke Chinese and translated "Gung Ho!" That was very much on his mind on Makin, when things were going badly and he wouldn't have given a wooden nickel for their chances of getting off the fucking beach alive.

He came across Captain Roosevelt then, and the first thing he thought was that only in the United States of America would the son of the head man have his ass in the line of fire. Then he changed that to "only in The Marine Corps" and finally to "only in the Raiders." Zimmerman realized that he was now a genuine fucking true believer Gung Ho Marine Raider... he was also a guy who had spent five and a half of his seven years in The Corps in the Fourth Marines in Shanghai, where officers were officers, and enlisted men were enlisted men.

He was not at all comfortable when he stood in Colonel Carlson's office door and the Colonel waved him into a chair without even giving him a chance to report to the commanding officer in the prescribed manner.

"I didn't know you'd done any time with Marine Aviation, Zimmerman," the Colonel said.

"I never did," Zimmerman said, so surprised that he added "Sir" only after a perceptible pause.

Curious," Colonel Carlson said and handed him a teletype message.

PRIORITY

CONFIDENTIAL

HQ FLEET MARINE FORCE PACIFIC

1405 30 AUG 1942

To: COMMANDING OFFICER 2ND USMC RAIDER BATTALION

Info: COMMANDING OFFICER 2 1ST MARINE AIR GROUP

1. ON RECEIPT THIS MESSAGE FOLLOWING NAMED ENLISTED MEN ARE DETACHED COMPANY "A" 2ND

RAIDER BN AND ASSIGNED HQ 21ST MARINE AIR GROUP.

ZIMMERMAN, ERNEST W 286754 GYSGT

MCCOY, THOMAS M 355331 SGT

2. CO 2ND RAIDER BN WILL ARRANGE TRANSPORT BY MOST EXPEDITIOUS MEANS, INCLUDING AIR, FROM

PRESENT STATION TO RECEIVING UNIT. PRIORITY AAA IS AUTHORIZED.

BY DIRECTION: C.W. STANWYCK LTCOL USMC

"The Twenty-first MAG is on Guadalcanal," Colonel Carlson said.

"Yes, Sir, I know."

"Then this doesn't surprise you, Gunny? You knew about it?"

"No, Sir. I mean, no, Sir, I didn't know anything about this."

"I'm curious, Gunny," Carlson said, conversationally. "If this question in any way is awkward for you to answer, then don't answer it. But would you be surprised to learn that Lieutenant McCoy had a hand in this somewhere?" The question obviously surprised Zimmerman. He met Carlson's eyes.

"Sir, nothing the Kill- Lieutenant McCoy does surprises me anymore. But I don't think he's behind this. I think I know where it come from."

"You did know, didn't you, Gunny, what Lieutenant McCoy was doing, really doing, when he was assigned here?" Zimmerman's face flushed.

"I had a pretty good idea, Sir," he said uncomfortably.

"Lieutenant McCoy is a fine officer," Carlson said, "defined first as one who carries out whatever orders he is given to the best of his ability, and second as a gentleman who is made uncomfortable by deception. You know what I'm talking about, Gunny?"

"Yes, Sir. I think so, Sir."

"I saw Lieutenant McCoy in the hospital just before they flew him home. He told me then what he'd really been doing with the Raiders. I then told him I had been aware of his situation almost from the day he joined the Raiders." Zimmerman looked even more uncomfortable.

"I told him I bore him no hard feelings. Quite the contrary. That I admired him for carrying out a difficult order to the best of his ability. If certain senior officers of The Corps felt it necessary to send in an officer to determine whether or not the commanding officer of the 2nd Raider Battalion was a communist, then it was clearly the duty of that officer to comply with his orders."

"The Killer never thought for a minute you was a communist, Sir," Zimmerman blurted.

Carlson smiled.

"So I understand," he said. "And I hope you have come to the same conclusion, Gunny."

"Jesus, Colonel!"

"I also told Lieutenant McCoy that whatever his primary mission was, he had carried out his duties with the Raiders in a more than exemplary manner, and that I considered it a privilege to have had him under my command."

"Yes, Sir."

"The same applies to you, Gunny. I wanted to tell you that before you ship out."

"Colonel," Zimmerman said, the floodgates open now, "the Killer told me he arranged for me to be assigned to the Raiders in case he needed me for something he was doing. He didn't tell me what he was doing, and the only thing I ever did was take some telephone messages for him. I didn't even know what the fuck they meant."

"Hence my curiosity about your transfer," Colonel Carlson said. "You said, didn't you, a moment ago, that you thought you knew what was behind the transfer?"

"Yes, Sir. I mean, I don't know for sure, but what I think is... when they were forming VMF-229 at Ewa, they was having trouble with their aircraft-version Browning.50s. A tech sergeant named Oblensky, an old China Marine, was. He come to me and McCoy-Sergeant McCoy-and me went over there and took care of it for him."

"And you think Sergeant-Oblensky, you said?"

"Yes, Sir. Big Steve Oblensky."

"-was behind this transfer?"

"Yes, Sir. He goes way back. He's too old now, but he used to be a Flying Sergeant. He was in Nicaragua, places like that, flying with General McInerney. He knows a lot of people in The Corps, Sir." Brigadier General D. G. McInerney was not the most senior Marine Aviator, but he was arguably the most influential.

"And you think that based on Sergeant Oblensky's recommendation, General McInerney, or someone at that level, convinced Fleet Marine Force Pacific that MAG-21 needs you and Sergeant McCoy more than the 2nd Raider Battalion does?"

"Yes, Sir. That's the way I see it."

"I think you're probably right, Gunny," Colonel Carlson said, standing up and offering his hand to Zimmerman. "We'll miss the two of you around here, but I'm sure you'll do a good job for MAG-21." Zimmerman got quickly to his feet and took Carlson's hand.

"I don't suppose I got anything to say about this transfer, do I, Sir?"

"Yes, of course you, do. You've been given an order, and when a good gunny gets an order, he says, `Aye, aye, Sir."

"Aye, aye, Sir."

"Good luck, Gunny. And pass that on to Sergeant McCoy, please, "

"Aye, aye, Sir." Zimmerman did an about-face and marched to the office door. As he passed through it, he suddenly remembered that Sergeant McCoy was at the moment behind bars in Honolulu charged with drunkenness, resisting arrest, and Christ only knows what else.

(Two)

ARMED FORCES MILITARY POLICE DETENTION FACILITY

HONOLULU, OAHU, TERRITORY OF HAWAII

31 AUGUST 1942

Sergeant Thomas M. McCoy, USMCR, had not been provided with a pillow or any other bedclothes for his bunk, a sheet of steel welded firmly to the wall of his cell.

He had remedied the situation by making a pillow of his shoes; he'd wrapped them in his trousers. And his uniform jacket was now more or less a blanket, He was very hung over, and in addition he suffered from a number of bruises and contusions. The combined force of Navy and Marine Corps Shore Patrolmen, augmented by two Army Military Policemen, had been more than a little annoyed with Sergeant McCoy at the time of his arrest.

They had used, with a certain enthusiasm, somewhat more than the absolute minimum force required to restrain an arrestee. Sergeant McCoy's back, hips, buttocks, thighs, and calves would carry for at least two weeks long thin black bruises from nightsticks, and both eyes would suggest they had encountered something hard, such as a fist or elbow.

When the door of his cell, a barred section on wheels, opened with an unpleasant clanking noise, Sergeant McCoy had been awake long enough to reconstruct as much as he could of the previous evening's events and to consider how they were most likely going to affect his immediate future in The Marine Corps.

Even the most optimistic assessment was not pleasant: He would certainly get busted. Depending on how much damage he'd done to the Shore Patrol-the bloody gashes on the fingers of his right hand suggested he'd punched at least one of the bastards in the teeth-there was a good chance he would find himself standing in front of a court-martial, and would probably catch at least thirty days in the brig, maybe more.

On the premise that the damage was already done and that nothing else could happen to him, he ignored whoever it was who had stepped into his cell. When whoever it was pushed on his shoulder to wake him, he ignored that, too.

"Wake up, McCoy," the familiar voice of Gunnery Sergeant Zimmerman said as his shoulder was shaken a little harder.

The doesn't sound all that pissed, McCoy decided. And then there was another glimmer of hope: Zimmerman ain't all that bad compared to most gunnies. Maybe I can talk myself out of this.

He straightened his legs. That hurt.

Those bastards really did a job on me with their fucking nightsticks.

He pushed himself into a sitting position and looked at Zimmerman, a slight smile on his face.

He saw that Zimmerman had a seabag with him and that Zimmerman was in greens, not utilities.

That's probably my bag. He looked and saw his name stenciled on the side.

"You look like shit," Zimmerman said.

"You ought to see the other guy, Gunny."

"Anything broke?"

"Nah," McCoy said.

"I got your gear," Zimmerman said, kicking the seabag.

"Shave and get into clean greens. I'll be back in five minutes.

It stinks in here."

"How the hell am I supposed to shave? There's no water or nothing in here."

"Big, tough guy like you don't need any water or shaving cream." Zimmerman turned around and struck one of the vertical cell bars with the heel of his balled fist. It clanked open. The moment Zimmerman was outside the cell, it clanked shut again.

Exactly five minutes later he was back. McCoy had changed into a clean set of greens.

"Where we going, Gunny?"

"I told you to shave."

"And I told you there's no water, no mirror, no nothing, in here. How the fuck... ?" Zimmerman hit him twice, first in the abdomen with his fist, and then when he doubled over, in the back of his neck with the heel of his hand.

McCoy fell on the floor of the cell, banging his shoulder painfully on the steel bunk and nearly losing consciousness. He was conscious enough, though, to hear what Zimmerman said, almost conversationally: "I thought I already taught you that when I tell you to do something it ain't a suggestion." McCoy heard the sound of Zimmerman's fist striking the cell bar again, then he saw the cell door sliding open, and then closing again.

After a moment McCoy was able to get into a sitting position, resting his back against the cell wall. He took a couple of deep breaths, each of which hurt, then he pulled his seabag to him, unfastened the snap from the loop, and dug inside "or his razor.

(Three)

UNITED STATES NAVAL AIR STATION

LAKEHURST, NEW JERSEY

1705 HOURS 31 AUCUST 1942

Second Lieutenant Malcolm S. Pickering, USMCR, glanced over at his traveling companion, Second Lieutenant Richard J. Stecker, USMC, saw that he was asleep, and jabbed him in the ribs with his elbow.

Pickering, a tall, rangy twenty-two-year-old with an easygoing look, was considered extraordinarily handsome by a number of females even before he had put on the dashing uniform of a Marine officer. Stecker, also twenty-two, was stocky, muscular, and looked-on the whole-more dependable. They were sitting in adjacent seats toward the rear of a U.S. Navy R4D aircraft. To judge from the triangular logotype woven into the upholstery of its seats, the R4D had originally been the property of Delta Air Lines.

"Hey! Wake up! I have good news for you!"

"What the hell?" Stecker replied. He had not been napping. He had been sound asleep.

" `You too can learn to fly,' " Pickering read solemnly.

" `For your country, for your future."

"What the hell are you reading?" Stecker demanded.

"Whether you're sixteen or sixty,' " Pickering continued, " `if you are in normal health and possess normal judgment, you can learn to fly with as little as eight hours of dual instruction."

"Stecker snatched the Life magazine from Pickering's hand.

"Jesus, you woke me up for that?" he said in exasperation, throwing the magazine back in his lap.

"We have begun our descent," Pickering said. "If you had read and heeded this splendid public service advertisement by the Piper people, you would know that."

"Where the hell are we?" Stecker said, looking out the window.

"I devoutly hope we are over New Jersey," Pickering said.

He picked up the magazine, found his place, and continued reading aloud:" `In the future a huge aviation industry will offer great opportunities to pilots of all ages. Visit your Piper Cub Dealer. He will be glad to give you a flight demonstration and tell you how you can become a pilot now."

"Will you shut the hell up?"

"It says right here, `flying saves you time, gas, and tires." How about that?"

"You're making that up."

"I am not, see for yourself," Pickering said righteously, holding up the magazine.

Stecker did not look. He was staring out the window.

"I see water down there," he announced.

"And clever fellow that you are, I'll bet you've figured out that it's the Atlantic Ocean."

"You're in a disgustingly cheerful mood," Stecker said.

"I have visions of finally getting off this sonofabitch, and that has cheered me beyond measure. My ass has been asleep for the last forty-five minutes."

"And your brain all day," Stecker said triumphantly, and then added, "There it is." Pickering leaned across him and looked out the window. The enormous dirigible hangar at Lakehurst Naval Air Station rose surrealistically from the sandy pine barren, dwarfing the eight or ten Navy blimps near it, and making the aircraft-including other R4Ds-parked on the concrete ramp seem toylike.

The Naval Aviators here are at war, Stecker thought. Every day they fly Navy blimps and long-range patrol bombers over the Atlantic in a futile search, most of the time, for German submarines that are doing their best to interrupt shipping between the United States and England.

"How'd you like to fly one of those?" Stecker asked. "A blimp?"

"Not at all, thank you. I have had my fucking fill of the miracle of flight for one day." It was about 1300 miles in straight lines from Pensacola, Florida, to Lakehurst, N.J.

Using 200 knots as a reasonable figure for the hourly speed of the Gooneybird, that translated to six and a half hours. It had taken considerably longer than that. There had been intermediate stops at the Jacksonville, Florida, Naval Air Station; at Hurtt Field, on Parris Island, S.C.; at The Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C.; the Norfolk NAS, Va.; and Anacostia NAS, Md.

They had taken off from Pensacola at first light, just after four A.M. It was now nearly four P.m., or actually five, since they had changed time zones.

"I mean, really," Stecker said.

"Not me. I'm a fighter pilot," Pickering said grandly.

"Oh shit," Stecker groaned.

The Gooneybird flew down the length of the dirigible hangar, then turned onto his final approach. There was the groan of hydraulics as the Gooneybird pilot lowered the flaps and landing gear.

"You know, it actually rains inside there," Stecker said.

"So you have told me. Which does not necessarily make it so.

"It really does, jackass."

"Another gem from R. Stecker's fund of useless knowledge," Pickering said, mimicking the dulcet voice of a radio announcer, "brought to you by the friendly folks at Piper aircraft, where you too can learn to fly." With a chirp, the Gooneybird's wheels made contact with the ground.

"The Lord be praised, we have cheated death again," Pickering said.

"Jesus Christ, Pick, shut up, will you?" Stecker said, but he was unable to keep a smile off his lips.

They taxied to the transient ramp at one end of the dirigible hangar. A two-story concrete block there was dwarfed by the building behind it.

The plane stopped. The door to the cockpit opened, and a sailor, the crew chief, went down the aisle and opened the door.

He was wearing work denims and a blue, round sailor's cap. A blast of hot air rushed into the cabin.

He unstrapped a small aluminum ladder from the cabin wall and dropped it in place.

Pickering unfastened his seat belt, stood up, and moved into the aisle. When the other passengers started following the crew chief off the airplane, he started down the aisle.

"Put your cover on," Stecker said. "You remember what happened the last time."

"Indeed I do," Pickering said. It wasn't really the last time, but the time before the last time. He had exited the aircraft with his tie pulled down, his collar unbuttoned, and his uniform cap (in Marine parlance, his "cover") jammed in his hip pocket.

He had almost immediately encountered a Marine captain, wearing the wings of a parachutist-Lakehurst also housed The Marine Corps' parachutists' school-who had politely asked if he could have a word with him, led him behind the Operations Building, and then delivered a brief inspirational lecture on the obligation of Marine officers, even fucking flyboys, to look like Marine officers, not like something a respectable cat would be ashamed to drag home.

Dick Stecker, who'd listened at the corner of the building, judged it to be a really first-class chewing-out. He'd also known it was a waste of the Captain's time and effort. It would inspire Pickering to go and sin no more for maybe a day. He had been right.

If I hadn't said something, he would have walked out of the airplane again with his cover in his pocket and his tie pulled down.

When Stecker got off the plane, he found Pickering looking up like a tourist at the curved roof of the dirigible hangar.

From that angle it seemed to soar into infinity.

He jabbed him in the ribs.

"I'll go check on ground transportation. You get the bags." Pickering nodded.

"Big sonofabitch, ain't it?"

Stecker nodded.

"It really does rain in there?"

"Yes, it does," Stecker said, and then walked toward the Operations Building.

There were a corporal and a staff sergeant behind the counter with the sign TRANSIENT SERVICE hanging above it.

Wordlessly, Stecker handed him their orders.

"Lieutenant," the corporal said, "you just missed the seventeen-hundred bus. The next one's at nineteen-thirty."

"That won't cut it," Stecker said. "Sorry."

"Excuse me, Sir," the corporal said politely, turned his back, and gestured with his thumb to the sergeant that the Second Lieutenant was posing a problem.

The sergeant walked to the counter.

"Can I help you, Lieutenant?"

"I'm on my way to the Grumman plant at Bethpage, L.I. I need transportation."

"Yes, Sir. The way you do that is catch the bus to Penn Station in New York City. And a train from there. You just missed the seventeen-hundred bus, and the next one is at nineteen-thirty."

"If I wait for the nineteen-thirty bus I won't get out there until midnight."

"Sir, you just missed the bus."

"We're scheduled for an oh-six-hundred takeoff, Sergeant. I am not about to get into an airplane and fly to Florida on five hours sleep. If you can't get us a ride, please get the officer of the day on the telephone," Stecker said.

The sergeant looked carefully at the Lieutenant's orders and then at the Lieutenant and decided that what he should do was arrange for a station wagon. This was not the kind of second lieutenant, in other words, who could be told to sit down and wait for the next bus.

"I'll call the motor pool, Sir. It'll take a couple of minutes."

"Thank you, Sergeant."

"Yes, Sir."

Dick Stecker was less awed with the sergeant-for that matter, with The Marine Corps-than most second lieutenants were. For one thing he was a regular; the service was his way of life, not an unwelcome interruption before he could get on with being a lawyer, a movie star, or a golf professional.

More important, he was a second-generation Marine. He had grown up on Marine installations around the country and in China. While he and Pick Pickering both believed that there were indeed three ways to do things-the right way, the wrong way, and The Marine Corps Way-Pickering viewed The Marine Corps Way as just one more fucking infringement on his personal liberty, and Dick Stecker regarded The Marine Corps Way as an opportunity.

Their current situation was a case in point. The Marine Corps seemed for the moment to have misplaced them-as opposed to having actually lost them. So far as they knew, immediately on certification as qualified in a particular aircraft, every other Marine Corps Second Lieutenant Naval Aviator had been transferred to an operational squadron for duty.

Most F4F Grumman Wildcat pilots were assigned to the Pacific, either to a specific squadron or to one of the Marine Air Groups. The Marine Corps had lost a lot of pilots in the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway and in connection with the invasion of Guadalcanal.

It followed that Lieutenants Stecker and Pickering, duly certified as qualified to fly Wildcats, should have been on their way to the Pacific some time ago. Or failing that, they should have been assigned to one of the fighter squadrons forming in the United States for later service in that theater.

But that hadn't happened. They were "temporarily" assigned to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida (where they'd learned how to fly less than a year before), picking up brand-new Wildcats at the Grumman factory and ferrying them all over the country.

This bothered "Pick" Pickering no end. He wanted to be where the fighting was, not cooling his ass in the United States.

He also wallowed in fear that they would be permanently assigned to Pensacola as instructor pilots, spending the war in the backseat of a Yellow Peril teaching people how to fly, while the rest of their peers were off covering themselves with glory in the Pacific.

Dick Stecker had a pretty good idea about why they were doing what they were doing. And while Pickering had listened politely to Stecker's explanation, he didn't accept a word of it. Possibly, in Stecker's view, because it was too simple:

Dick Stecker received his commission from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Since very few Marine officers took their commissions from the Army trade school, screwed up The Marine Corps' Pilot Procurement Program scheduling insofar as Lieutenant Stecker was concerned.

Pickering received his commission from the officer candidate school at Quantico. The idea of becoming a Marine Aviator never entered his mind until he was given a chance to volunteer for pilot training as an alternative to what The Corps had in mind for him: mess officer.

Before coming into The Corps, Pickering had worked in hotels; he knew how to run bars and kitchens. The Corps needed people with experience in those areas, and The Corps was notoriously nonsensitive to the career desires of newly commissioned second lieutenants, even those whose announced intention was to start fighting the Japs as soon as possible.

But Pickering had a friend in high places. Long before he himself had been commissioned and learned how to fly, Brigadier General D. G. McInerney had been a sergeant at Belleau Wood in 1917. One of his corporals then had been Pick Pickering's father, currently a reserve Navy officer on duty somewhere in the Pacific. The elder Pickering and McInerney had maintained their friendship over the years.

While acknowledging that The Corps did need mess officers, General McInerney decided it needed pilots more, and would just have to make a mess officer out of some other lieutenant who did not possess young Pickering's splendid physical attributes, high intelligence, and tested genetic heritage.

Lieutenants Stecker and Pickering both arrived at Pensacola for training at the same time. Lieutenant Stecker did not think this was pure coincidence. Dick Stecker's father, Jack (NMI) Stecker, now an officer with the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal, had also been at Belleau Wood with General McInerney.

After Pickering and Stecker arrived at Pensacola, their basic flight training was not conducted in accord with the rigidly structured and scheduled system that other young pilots were subjected to. For one thing they were not assigned to a large class. And while they completed the exact syllabus of training everyone else was given, they did not do it as part of any particular training squadron. They took some ground school courses with one training squadron, other ground school courses with other training squadrons. And when it came time' for them to actually climb into an airplane, their instructor pilots were not just instructor pilots but senior instructor pilots.

Even though the normal duties of senior instructor pilots were supervision of other instructor pilots and giving check rides, they could and did fit two orphans into their available time, for The Good of The Corps. It was a secret only to Lieutenants Stecker and Pickering that General McInerney inquired every week or so into their progress.

When they completed the course, they did not march in dress whites in a graduation parade to the stirring strains of "Anchors Aweigh" and the Marine Hymn played by a Navy band.

Their wings of gold were pinned on one Tuesday afternoon in the office of a Navy captain who seemed baffled by what was going on.

After that they were recommended for fighter training... probably, in Dick Stecker's judgment, because none of their IPs felt comfortable announcing that one of his students didn't have that extra something special required of fighter pilots especially with General McInerney in the audience.

And when they went down the Florida peninsula for Wildcat training, they again received the prescribed training, but they got it from pilots who were not only qualified IPs, but were also functioning in operational squadrons. So they were taught the way it really is, rather than the way the Navy brass thought it should be.

In fact, because of the quality of their instruction, they were just a shade better pilots than other young aviators of equivalent experience. Pickering considered that he was fully qualified to battle the Dirty Jap right now; Stecker was perfectly happy with the opportunity to get more hours in the Wildcat.

Stecker walked back out to the transient parking ramp. Pickering was nowhere in sight. After a moment, though, Stecker saw him standing near the open door to the dirigible hangar, talking to a Naval officer.

He just doesn't want to believe it really does rain inside there.

Well, screw you, pal, you are about to learn that it does.

(Four)

BUKA, SOLOMON ISLANDS

AUGUST 1942

Sergeant Steven M. Koffler was awakened in his quarters by Miss Patience Witherspoon. She squatted by his bed and squeezed his shoulder. Miss Witherspoon herself had constructed the bed, of woven grass ropes suspended between poles.

He opened his eyes and looked at her.

The fucking trouble with her, he thought, for perhaps the one-hundredth time, is her fucking eyes. They're clear and gray.

It's as if a real girl is looking out at me from behind that scarred face.

"There are engine noises, Steven," she said in her soft, precise voice.

"Right," he said.

He swung his feet out of bed and jammed them into his boondockers. They were green with mold, and he had no socks.

The three pairs he'd had when they jumped in had lasted just over a month.

He picked up his Thompson submachine gun and checked automatically. As usual the chamber was clear, with a cartridge in the magazine ready to be chambered. He slung the strap over his shoulder before he noticed Patience holding something out to him.

It was his other utility jacket, in no better shape than the one he'd been sleeping in, but Patience had obviously washed it for him.

"I'll save it for later," he said. "Thank you."

"Don't be silly," Patience said, modestly averting her eyes.

He took Mr. Reeves' German binoculars from the stub of a limb on one of the poles that held the hut together and hung them around his neck.

Then he walked to the tree house-there was no real reason for haste. Using the knotted rope, he walked up the tree side to the observation platform.

`What have we got, Ian?" he asked.

`Rather a lot, I would say," Ian replied. "They should be in sight any moment now." Steve could hear the muted rumble of engines and decided Ian was right. There were many of them.

And a moment later, as he scanned the skies, he saw the first of them. He handed the binoculars to Ian Bruce.

"Never let these out of your hands, Koffler," Mr. Reeves had told him just before he and Howard went off into the boondocks. "Ian is a rather good chap, but a curious one. Give him half a chance and he'll try to take them apart to see what magic they contain to make things bigger." When Ian handed them back a moment later, Steve noticed that the last tiny scrap of leather had finally fallen off the side of the binoculars. A thumbnail-sized area that had been glue still held on. But tomorrow that too would disappear and the binoculars would be green all over.

"Twenty to thirty, I would say," Ian said. "And I thought I could make out another formation a bit higher." Steve put the binoculars to his eyes again. The spots in the sky were now large enough to be counted. Six 5-plane V's.

Thirty. Almost certainly Bettys.

The Betty (designated the Mitsubishi G4MI Type I aircraft by the Japanese) was the most common Japanese bomber.

Koffler knew a good deal about the Betty: He could recite from memory, for example, that it was a twin-engine, land-based bomber aircraft with a normal complement of seven. It had an empty weight of 9.5 tons and was capable of carrying 2200 pounds of bombs, or two 1700-pound torpedoes, over a nominal range of 2250 miles, at a cruising speed of 195 miles per hour. Its maximum speed was 250 miles per hour at 14,000 feet.

It was armed with four 7.7mm machine guns, one in the nose, one on top, and two in beam positions, plus a 20mm cannon in the tail.

He knew this much about the Betty because there was very little to do on Buka. You could not, for example, run down to the corner drugstore for an ice-cream soda, or -more in keeping with his exalted status as a Marine sergeant- down to the slop chute for a thirty-five-cent two-quart pitcher of beer.

So, to pass the time, you exchanged information with your companions.

Thus Steve learned from Mr. Reeves that when Australians went rooting, they weren't jumping up and down cheering their football team. "Rooting" was Australian for fucking. He also learned that the American equivalent to the Australian term "sodding" was somewhere between "fucking" and "up your ass."

Mr. Reeves also explained to Lieutenant Howard and Sergeant Koffler the Australian system of government and its relationship to the British Crown. Steve never knew that Australia was started as a prison colony. He had too much respect for Mr. Reeves to ask him if his ancestors were guards or prisoners.

Lieutenant Howard, in turn, explained the American system of government to Mr. Reeves, who actually seemed interested.

Lieutenant Howard also shared his detailed knowledge of Japanese aircraft with Mr. Reeves and Sergeant Koffler. And Sergeant Koffler tried to explain the theory of radio wave transmission, but with virtually no success.

He gave the binoculars back to Ian, who kept them to his eyes until he was able to announce, with certainty, "Bettys. I make them thirty-five."

"I counted thirty," Steve said, putting the glasses to his eyes again.

Ian was right. There were thirty-five.

And the aircraft flying above them were Zeroes.

The Zero was the standard Japanese fighter aircraft, also manufactured by Mitsubishi, and officially designated the A6M. It was powered by a Nakijima 14-cylinder 925-horsepower engine, and was armed with two 20mm Oerlikon machine cannon and two machine guns, firing the British.303 rifle cartridge.

According to Lieutenant Howard it was a better airplane than anything the Americans or the English had. It was more maneuverable, and the 20mm cannons were not only more powerful but had greater range than the.50 caliber Browning machine guns on Navy and Marine aircraft.

"I count forty Zeroes," Steve said. "I'll get started. If anything else shows up, let me know."

"Right!" Ian said crisply.

Steve went down the knotted rope and walked to where the radio was kept, broken down. That way they could run with it if that became necessary.

He spotted Edward James and whistled at him. When he had his attention, he made a cranking motion with his hands.

Edward James popped to attention and saluted crisply.

"Sir!" he barked.

When he popped to attention, one of the two MACHETES, SUBSTITUTE STANDARD, he had hanging from his belt swung violently.

"Another inch and you'd have cut your balls off," Steve said.

It took Edward James a moment to make the translation into what he thought of as proper English.

"Quite, Sir," he said.

He then disappeared into the bush. When he returned a moment later he was carefully carrying a device that looked something like a bicycle. It was in fact the generator that powered Steve's radios. They originally jumped in with two. But one of these was now worn out beyond repair-both physically (the bearings were shot) and electrically (the coils were shorted). How long the other would last, nobody knew. Steve would not have been surprised if it failed to work now.

By the time Edward James returned with the generator, Steve had the radio connected to the antennae. Edward James proudly connected the generator leads to the radio and then went to string the antennae between trees.

Steve took out the code book-also on its last legs and just barely legible-and wrote out his message. He then encoded it.

By the time he was finished, Edward James was back. Steve made the cranking motion again.

"Right, Sir!" Edward James said. He got aboard the generator and started slowly and powerfully pushing its pedals. In a moment the dials on the radio lit up. Steve put earphones on his head, adjusted the position of the telegraph key, and threw the switch on the Hallicrafters to TRANSMIT. Then he put his hand on the key.

The dots and dashes went out, repeated three times, spelling simply:

FRD6. FRD6. FRD6.

Detachment A of Special Marine Corps Detachment 14 is attempting to establish contact with any station on this communications network.

This time, for a change, there was an immediate reply.

FRD6.KCY.FRD6.KCY.FRD6.KCY.

Hello, Detachment A, this is the United States Pacific Fleet Radio Station at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, responding to your call.

KCY. PRD6. SB CODE.

CINCPAC Radio Pearl Harbor, stand by to copy encrypted message.

When he was at Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant Howard once told him, he'd pulled guard duty a couple of times-he was sergeant of the guard-and got a look at CINCPAC Radio. It was in an air-conditioned building, so the equipment wouldn't get too hot. It made it nice for the operators too.

FRD6. KCY. GA.

CINCPAC Radio to Detachment A: Go ahead.

The information that thirty-five Bettys, escorted by forty Zeroes, out of Rabaul and on a course that would take them to Guadalcanal, had just passed overhead at approximately 15,000 feet was encoded on a sheet of damp paper. Sergeant Koffler put the sheet under his left hand and pointed his index finger at the first block of five characters.

As his right hand worked the telegrapher's key, his index finger swept across the coded message. It is more difficult to transmit code than plain English, for the simple reason that code doesn't make any sense.

It took him just over a minute, not quite long enough for the Japanese to locate the transmitter by triangulation, before he sent, in the clear, END.

FRD6. KCY. AKN. CLR.

Detachment A, this is Pearl Harbor. Your transmission is acknowledged.

Pearl Harbor Clear.

Steve made a cutting motion across his throat, and Edward James stopped pumping the generator pedals.

Steve watched as Edward James proudly disconnected the generator leads from the Hallicrafters and then smiled at him.

As Edward James left the hut, Miss Patience Witherspoon came in. She carried a plate on which was a piece of cold roast pork (though it took quite a stretch of his imagination to identify it as such) and a baked vegetable, something like a stringy sweet potato, also cold. It tasted like stringy soap.

"Perhaps," Patience said gently, once she saw the look on his face, "they will be able to get something you will like from the Japanese." And perhaps they've already had their heads cut off by the fucking Japs... after telling them where to find us, when the Japs sliced their balls off.

Ah, shit, she means well. I don't want to hurt her feelings.

"This is fine, Patience," he said. "And I'm starved." She lowered her head modestly and crossed her hands over her breasts. The motion served to bring her breasts to Koffler's attention. with their shape, of the large nipples.

And then he had a thought that really frightened him: With the officers gone, no one would ever know, if I fucked her.

Chapter Four

[One]

THE FOSTER LAFAYETTE HOTEL

WASHINGTON, D.C.

1915 HOURS 31 AUGUST 1942

Fleming Pickering made a grunting noise and opened his eyes.

It could very well be a groan of pain, Senator Richmond Fowler thought.

"I seem to have dropped off," Pickering said, pushing himself up in the armchair. "How long was I out?"

"Passed out is more like it," Fowler said. "A couple of hours. How do you feel?"

"Will you stop hovering over me like Florence Nightingale? I'm fine."

"I probably shouldn't tell you this, but you look a hell of a lot better than when you walked in here."

"I feet fine," Pickering said. He sniffed under his armpit.

"I smell like a cadaver but I feel fine."

"I was wondering about that," Fowler said. "How do you manage bathing?"

"I take a shower with my arm raised as far as I can, and very carefully. Would you like to watch?"

"I'll pass, thank you just the same. I can live with the smell for a while. And besides, you might want something sent up to eat."

"Was the tailor here?"

"Yes. He did three shirts for you."

"Then I think I'd rather eat downstairs in the grill," Pickering said.

He pushed himself out of the chair and walked into the bedroom.

In a moment, Fowler heard the sound of running water. Not without difficulty, he resisted the temptation to go in and help.

Fleming Pickering was a big boy.

Five minutes later there was indication that not all was well.

"Oh, shit!" Pickering's voice came from the bedroom, filled with disgust.

Fowler went quickly in. Pickering, stark naked, dripping, stood in the door of the bath, examining water-soaked bandages scattered over his chest and upper stomach. Fowler saw streams of watery blood running down his body.

"I don't suppose you have any adhesive tape?" Pickering asked.

Fowler picked up the telephone.

"This is Senator Fowler. Find Dr. Selleres and send him up here immediately."

"That wasn't necessary," Pickering said.

"Trust me. I'm a U.S. Senator," Fowler said.

Pickering looked at him and chuckled. " `The check's in the mail,' right? `Your husband will never find out'?"

"Speaking of wives, I just spoke with yours."

"How'd she know I was here?"

"Where else would you be? Aside from St. Elizabeth's?" St. Elizabeth's was Washington's best-known mental hospital'

"And?" Pickering replied, not amused.

"And she says, when you get a chance, call."

"I will," Pickering said.

He put his hand to his chest and jerked off one of the bandages. Fowler saw that the wound beneath was still sutured.

"You were almost killed, weren't you?"

"That's like being pregnant, you either are or you aren't. No I wasn't. I don't think I was ever in any danger of dying."

"I saw the Silver Star citation. You passed out from loss of blood."

"I think that was shock from the arm," Pickering said matter-of-factly. "And I didn't pass out. I just got a little lightheaded. Where did you see my citation?"

"Knox sent me a copy. He thought I would be interested."

"Christ, Knox. I forgot all about him."

"You will see him tomorrow."

"How do you know that?"

"He called me. How did he know you were here? Same answer. Where else would you go?"

"is he annoyed?"

"I don't think `annoyed' is a strong enough word."

"When do I see him?"

"Half past five."

"In the afternoon, obviously. Am I being forced to cool my heels all day, until half past five, as a subtle expression of displeasure?"

"At half past five we are having drinks and a small intimate supper with the President."

"Are you kidding""

"No. I am not. Knox will be there. And Admiral Leahy. No one else, I'm told."

"What's that all about?"

"I have no idea. When the President's secretary calls me and asks if I am free for drinks and supper, I say, `Thank you very much." I don't ask what he has in mind."

"I had hoped to be well on my way to Florida by half past five tomorrow."

"You'll have plenty of time to see Pick. One more day won't matter."

"He is liable to be on orders any day. Considering the shortage of pilots over there, they may not give him much of a pre-embarkation leave, possibly only three or four days. I don't have plenty of time." A knock at the door kept Fowler from having to reply. He went to answer it, and Pickering went into the bathroom and wrapped a towel around his middle.

Or tried to. It was a difficult maneuver with one arm in a cast.

"Hello, Fleming," Dr. Selleres, the house physician, said. He spoke with a slight Spanish accent.

"How are you, Emilio? You brought your bag, I hope? I seem to be leaking all over the Senator's floor." Dr. Selleres walked to him, took a quick look, and shook his head.

"I'm surprised you were discharged from the hospital," the doctor said.

"These wounds are still suppurating."

"They can suppurate as well here as they could in a hospital," Pickering argued reasonably.

"Did you get the cast wet, too?" Selleres said, feeling it. "I don't suppose you've heard of this marvelous new medical technique we have called the sponge bath?"

"I needed a real bath," Pickering said.

"Or so you thought," Selleres said. "Lie down on the bed and I'll do what I can to clean up the mess you've made of yourself." Once he had Pickering down, the doctor checked his heart and blood pressure and peered intently into his eyes. Fowler was surprised that Pickering didn't protest.

Selleres then swabbed the wounds with an antiseptic solution and applied fresh bandages.

"If you don't kill yourself falling down in a shower or doing something else equally stupid, you can have those sutures looked at in four or five days," Dr. Selleres said.

"I love your bedside manner," Pickering said, smiling at him.

"If I wasn't in love with your wife, you could change your own bandages," Selleres said. "Shall I give her any kind of message when I talk to her?"

"You're going to talk to her?"

"Patricia called and made me promise to check on you in the morning. The Senator had told her you were passed out and wouldn't stir before then. Now I can call her tonight and tell her, unfortunately, that you're going to live."

"Do what you can to calm her down, will you, please?"

"Don't I always?" Selleres said. He put out his hand. "Welcome home, Flem. It's good to see you. And I heard about the Silver Star. Congratulations."

"Thank you," Pickering said. Fowler saw that he was embarrassed.

When he had gone, Pickering got off the bed, tried to fasten the towel around his waist, failed, swore, and walked naked out of the bedroom to the bar in the sitting room.

"Not that it seems to bother you," Fowler said, "but would you like some help getting dressed?"

"I can handle everything but a towel," Pickering said. "Towels having neither rubber bands nor buttons."

He made himself a drink and carried it back into the bedroom. Fowler, after making himself a drink, went to the doorway, leaned on the jamb, and watched Pickering dress. He did not offer to help, although it was obvious that Pickering was having a hell of a hard time pulling his cast through the sleeve of a T-shirt and then forcing it over his head.

"Would you please put braces on my trousers?" Pickering asked as he pulled on boxer shorts.

Fowler went to the dresser and picked up a pair of suspenders.

"If you manage that without too much difficulty, I'll let you put the garters on my socks," Pickering said.

"How do you cut your food?" Fowler asked.

"The same way I tie my tie," Pickering said. "I have some kind soul do it for me."

"We don't have to go out to eat, you know. There's room service."

"Tell me about what Leahy's doing," Pickering said, ignoring the offer.

"What do you want to know?"

"I'm just curious. His role seems to fascinate all the admirals."

"You ever meet him?" Pickering nodded.

"A couple of times. When he was Governor of Puerto Rico. Interesting man."

"A good man," Fowler said. "The first time I met him was when he was Chief of Naval Operations. If it wasn't for him, the way he fought for construction funds, made Congress understand, we would have a very small Navy right now to fight this war."

"So what's he doing now?" Pickering asked, sitting on the bed and pulling black socks over his feet.

Fowler dropped to his knees and strapped garters on Pickering's calves.

"His title is Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States..." Fowler said.

"Which the Navy brass in the Pacific thinks means that he's the senior uniformed officer of the Armed Forces, Army and Navy. Is that the situation?"

... which sounds very impressive," Fowler went on, ignoring the question. "There was an initial perception that he was to rank above both King and Marshall." Admiral Ernest King was the Chief of Naval Operations; General George C. Marshall was the Chief of Staff of the Army. "He had seniority over both officers, having retired from being Chief of Naval Operations in 1939."

"But?" Pickering interrupted again.

"But Roosevelt quickly torpedoed that," Fowler went on, note the Naval symbolism-by saying that Leahy is going to be his legman. His legman only. "

"I am just a simple sailor," Pickering said. "Unversed in the Machiavellian subtleties of politics. I don't know what the hell you're talking about."

"It means that the master of that art, Machiavellianism, our beloved President, has done it again."

"Done what again?"

"Kept his subordinates off balance. He's very good at that.

Marshall and King don't know what to think: Just what authority does Leahy have? Is he speaking as Admiral Leahy, who has a lot of rank but no legal authority? Or is Leahy speaking with the authority of the President?"

"So what exactly does he do?"

"Whatever the President tells him to do."

"Now that I have this explanation, I realize that not only doesn't it have anything to do with me, but that I really don't give a damn about White House or Army/Navy politics."

"You're in the Navy, you should be interested."

"I keep telling you that I'm getting out of the Navy," Pickering said.

"And I keep telling you," Fowler said, getting off his knees, "that I don't think Frank Knox is going to let you go. Can you get your pants on by yourself or will you need help with that, too?"

"If you've put the braces on my pants, I can handle putting them on."

[Two]

PENNSYLVANIA STATION

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

31 AUGUST 1942

"Thanks for the ride, Boats," Lieutenant Stecker said to the bosun's mate who had driven them to Manhattan from Lakehurst.

"Yes, Sir," the bosun said. "You go right through that door and you'll see where you turn in your travel vouchers for a ticket-the sign says `Rail Transportation Office."

"Thanks again," Stecker said and closed the station wagon door.

He picked up his small bag and stood there smiling and waving until the station wagon had driven away.

Lieutenant Pickering stepped off the curb, put his fingers to his lips, and whistled. The noise was startling. In a moment a taxi pulled to the curb.

Pickering bowed Stecker into the cab.

"Foster Park Hotel, please," Pickering said to the driver, and then turned to Stecker. "I don't understand why we didn't have the station wagon drop us at the hotel."

"Because that was not some seaman second class," Stecker explained, "who would not give a damn if you told him to drop you in the middle of the Holland Tunnel. That was a boatswain's mate second class. Boatswain's mates second class do not normally chauffeur people around."

"So?" Pickering asked.

"So he probably was driving us because nobody else could be found to drive us. He did not mind doing so, because he thought we really had to catch the train to Long Island. Still with me?"

"To repeat, so?"

"So now he is returning to Lakehurst thinking he has made a small contribution to the war effort by giving up an evening drinking beer and taking two Marine officers to catch a train.

On the other hand, if he dropped us at the hotel, bosun's mates being the clever fellows they are, he would have deduced that we were not bound for Long Island. He would have reported this fact to the chief who runs the motor pool. `Those two fucking jarhead flyboy second Johns didn't go anywhere near fucking Penn Station.' And the next time we asked for wheels at Lakehurst, we would be told, politely, of course, to go fuck ourselves."

Stecker looked at Pickering to judge his reaction to what he thought of as his Lesson 1103 in The Practical Aspects of Military Service. It was immediately apparent that Pickering hadn't heard at least half of what he had said. Pickering was looking out the window.

Then he leaned forward and slid open the panel between the backseat and the front.

"Where are we going?"

"Foster Park Hotel, Sir."

"By way of Greenwich Village? Jesus, do we look that stupid?"

"This is a shortcut I know, Sir."

"Stop at the next cop you see," Pickering said.

The taxi made the next right turn and then turned right again, now headed uptown toward Central Park.

"A guy's got to make a living," the cabdriver said,

"You picked the wrong sucker," Pickering said. "I used to live here."

"You sure don't sound like no New Yorker."

"Oh, shit," Pickering said, laughing, and then slid the window closed and moved back onto his seat. "Did you hear that?

That was a New York apology. Our driver is a mite pissed because I don't sound like a New Yorker; I made him waste his time trying to cheat us because I don't sound like a New Yorker."

"Did you hear what I said about why we're in this cab in the first place?"

"What does it matter?" Stecker shook his head in resignation and leaned back against the cushion.

Like the other forty-one hotels in the Foster chain, the Foster Park Hotel provided its guests quiet elegance and every reasonable amenity.

Andrew Foster learned early on in his career that a large number of people were willing to pay handsomely for hotel accommodations so long as the hotel was centrally located and offered first-class cuisine, well-appointed rooms and suites, and round-the-clock staffing. In every Foster hotel, for example, a room service waiter was on duty on every floor around the clock; a concierge was on duty in the lobby day and night; and complimentary limousine service was provided to and from railroad stations and airports.

Foster Hotels were not, in other words, the sort of places sought out by second lieutenants looking for a cheap place to rest their weary heads for a night.

A bellman, wearing a short red jacket, black trousers, and a pillbox cap tilted at the prescribed angle, rushed to open the door of the taxi when it pulled to the curb before the Foster Park Hotel marquee. As soon as he saw the two second lieutenants emerging from the car, his face showed that he was obviously aware that the Foster Park Hotel was doubtless beyond their limited means.

"May I help you, gentlemen?" he asked politely.

"We can manage, thank you," Pickering said.

"Are you checking in with us, Sir?" the bellman asked in a tone suggesting that this was highly unlikely. Even sharing a small double, a night at the Foster Park would cost these guys half their month's pay.

"I devoutly hope so," Pickering said, At that point the doorman entered the conversation. He wore a black frock coat, striped trousers, and a gray silk hat, and was far too dignified either to open doors or to wrestle with luggage, "Good evening, Mr. Pickering. How nice to see you, Sir."

"Hello, Charley, how are you?" Pickering said.

The doorman snatched Stecker's small bag from his hand and passed it to the bellman.

"Put the gentlemen's luggage in 24-A," the doorman ordered as he relieved Pickering of his small bag and gave it to the bellman.

Twenty-four-A and 24-B were a pair of terraced four-room suites that overlooked Central Park. The only more prestigious accommodation in the Foster Park was 25, the Theodore Roosevelt Suite, whose nine rooms occupied the entire front of the 25th floor.

The doorman walked quickly to open the door for the two lieutenants.

"Is there anything I can do for you, Mr. Pickering?" he asked as Pickering walked past him.

"Don't get between me and the men's room," Pickering said.

"The last time I met nature's call was somewhere over Maryland.

The doorman chuckled.

"I believe you know where to find it, Sir."

"How could I forget?" Pickering said.

The resident manager of the Foster Park Hotel, in a gray tailcoat and striped trousers, was standing a discreet distance from the entrance to the gentlemen's facility when Lieutenants Pickering and Stecker came out, "Good evening, Mr. Pickering," he said. "A pleasure to have you in the house, Sir."

"And it's always a pleasure to be here."

"There are no messages, Sir, I checked. And I had a small bar set up in 24-A. If there is anything else?"

"Very kind of you. I can't think of a thing. Thank you."

"Have a pleasant evening, Sir."

"We're going to try," Lieutenant Stecker said.

"Starting, I think," Pickering said, with a snort in the bar."

There were perhaps two dozen people in the dimly lit bar, mostly couples and quartets sitting at tables, but with several pairs of single men at tables and two other single men sitting at the bar.

There were also two strikingly attractive young women sitting together at a table in the corner.

The bartender addressed Pickering by name, adding, "Famous Grouse, an equal amount of water, and a little ice, right?"

"You have the memory of an elephant," Pickering said.

"Give my cousin one of the same."

"I'm not related to him," Stecker said, almost a reflex action, and then: "Did you see what's sitting in the corner?"

"Yes, indeed. I think he works for the Morgan Bank."

"I meant the blonde and her friend," Stecker said, even as he realized that Pickering had again successfully pulled his chain.

"Oh," Pickering said. "Her.

The bartender delivered the drinks. Pickering sipped his and then got off the stool.

"You keep the target under surveillance while I check on the car," he said. "Try not to slobber and drool."

He walked out of the bar carrying his drink, then through the lobby to the revolving door to the street. When he caught the doorman's eye, he motioned him over.

"What's up?" the doorman asked, his tone considerably less formal than it had been.

"The two ladies in the bar," Pickering said. "Are they what I think they are?" The doorman now looked distinctly uncomfortable.

"Jesus, Pick."

"Answer yes or no."

"Yes and no. They are. But they aren't working the bar, Pick. I know better than that."

"Tell me, Charley."

"I don't know if they're free-lancing, working the bars at the Plaza or the St. Regis, or whether they're a couple of Polly Adler's girls. Or somebody else's. They come in every couple of nights, have a couple of drinks, and leave. They never so much as make eyes at any of our guests."

"They know you know?"

"Sure.

"I want to go to bed," Pickering said, and then when he saw the look in Charley's eyes, added, "Alone. And early. My buddy, on the other hand, is randy. Since we have to get up at four goddamn A.M., I'm in no mood to prowl the nightclubs. Getting the picture?"

"Sure. Which one?"

"He likes the blonde."

"Who wouldn't? That'd be expensive, Pick."

Pickering reached into his trousers pocket and came up with a wad of bills. He counted out three, twenty-dollar bills and handed them to Charley.

"Not that much, Pick. All he's going to do is rent it for a little while."

"I don't want him to know that, right? If there's any left over, leave it in an envelope at reception."

"I understand."

"Get rid of the other one."

"You must be tired."

"I'm in love."

"No shit?"

"No shit."

"Hey, I'm happy for you, Pick."

"I appreciate this, Charley."

"Don't be silly. Anytime. Anything, Pick."

Pickering smiled at him, touched his arm, and walked back toward the bar.

Charley signaled with his finger to the bellman standing on the other side of the lobby to join him.

"There's a blonde in the bar," he said. "Tell her there's a telephone call for her. Bring her here. If I'm not back, tell her to wait."

"OK. What's going on?"

"None of your goddamn business," Charley said. He went to the concierge's desk.

"Mr. Pickering's guest will probably ask a young lady to join him for a nightcap in 24-A."

"I understand," the concierge said. "I'll take care of it." Charley the doorman and the concierge had been employees Of the Foster Hotel Corporation long enough to know that Andrew Foster had one child, a daughter. His daughter had one child, a son. The son's name was Malcolm S. Pickering.

Charley the doorman met Pick Pickering when Pick was sixteen and was spending the summer at the Foster Park learning the hotel business: first as a busboy; later, when he proved his stuff, as a baggage handler; and finally, before the summer was over, as a bellman.

(Three)

BETHPAGE STATION

LONG ISLAND RAILROAD

0530 HOURS I SEPTEMBER 1942

Second Lieutenant Malcolm S. Pickering, USMCR, reached into the passenger compartment of the Derham-bodied Packard Straight Eight 280 limousine and pushed at the shoulder of Second Lieutenant Richard J. Stecker, USMC. When this failed to raise Stecker from his slumber, he pinched Stecker's nostrils closed, which did.

"Jesus Christ!" Stecker said, sitting up abruptly and knocking Pick's hand away, "And good morning to you, Casanova," Pick said. "Nap time is over." Stecker snorted.

"You have a hickey on your neck," Pick said.

"Fuck you."

"That was simply an observation, not an expression of moral indignation. I'm glad you had a good time... you did have a good time?"

"None of your fucking business."

"You sounded like you were having a good time. It sounded like a first-class Roman orgy in there.

"Do I detect a slight hint of jealousy?" Stecker asked as climbed out of the limousine. "You had your chance. She told you she had a girlfriend she could call."

"I paid attention to the Technicolor clap movies I was shown. I don't go around picking up fast women in saloons, thus endangering my prospects for a happy home full of healthy, happy children borne for me by the decent, wholesome girl of my choice after the war."

"Oh, shit!" Stecker said. "And just for the record, she's a legal secretary."

"I gather you intend to see her again?" Pick asked.

"Jesus Christ," Stecker said angrily, suddenly remembering.

"I didn't get her phone number!"

"She's probably in the book," Pick said.

"Yeah," Stecker said. "Christ, I hope so."

"Will there be anything else, Mr. Pickering?" the chauffeur of the Foster Park limousine said.

"No, I don't think so. Thank you very much. I'm sorry you had to bring us out here at this ungodly hour."

"No problem, Mr. Pickering, glad to be of service."

"When you see Charley," Pickering said, "tell him I said thank you very much."

"I'll do that, Mr. Pickering. And you take care of yourself."

"Thank you," Pickering said as he shook the chauffeur's hand.

Pickering and Stecker picked up their bags, walked twenty yards to the head of the taxi line, and climbed in the first one.

"Grumman," Pickering told the driver. "Use the airfield entrance." At least, Stecker thought, he remembers that much. We did not roll up to the airfield gate in the limousine.

In Stecker's opinion, the key to success as a second lieutenant was invisibility. Second lieutenants should be neither seen nor heard. With Pickering, that was difficult. Pick was a living example of Scott Fitzgerald's line about the rich being different from you and me.

During their basic flight training at Pensacola, second Lieutenants were furnished quarters, two men to a tiny two-room apartment in a newly constructed, bare-frame wooden bachelor officer's quarters building. Such facilities proving unsatisfactory to Second Lieutenant Pickering, he rented a penthouse suite in the San Carlos Hotel in downtown Pensacola and commuted to flight school in his 1941 Cadillac convertible.

The two of them made a deal: Stecker paid for their liquor (acquired tax-free at the Officer's Sales Store). In exchange he got to live in the suite's second bedroom. He did not want to be a mooch, but he couldn't refute Pickering's argument that he was going to have to pay for the suite whether the second bedroom was used or not. So why not?

Not without a little surprise, Stecker quickly learned that Pickering was not a mental lightweight or even someone taking a free ride from his wealthy parents. For instance, the Cadillac had not been a gift. It was purchased from Pick's earnings during his last college summer vacation. He had worked as head bellman in a Foster hotel. Stecker was astonished to learn not only how much head bellmen earned, but how important a head bellman is to a successful hotel operation.

Pick had also worked in hotel kitchens enough to have made him a professional-level chef. Stecker never ceased to be amazed that Pickering could tell the precise doneness of a grilled steak-rare, medium, or medium-rare-by touching it with the tip of his thumb.

For a while grilling steaks for Pensacola maidens on the terrace of their hotel suite was a very profitable enterprise, carnally speaking. But then Pick fell in love.

Not with one of the maidens, but with a widow (a young widow, his age) who wanted nothing to do with him. Part of Pick's infatuation with her, Stecker suspected, was that she spurned his attentions. A most unusual occurrence where Pick was concerned; from what Stecker had seen, females ran toward Pickering with invitation in their eyes, not away from him.

The widow, Martha Sayre Culhane, was the daughter of the Number-Two Admiral aboard Pensacola NAS, Rear Admiral R. B. Sayre. Her husband, a Marine First Lieutenant, a Naval Aviator, had been killed on Wake Island.

Pick was of course a formidable suitor, but he got no further with Martha Culhane than some dinner dates and movies. And she flatly refused to marry him.

Stecker was absolutely convinced that she had not let Pickering into her pants.

But he was faithful to her, witness last night, when a smashingly beautiful woman with an uncontrollable lust for Marine Aviators had a friend who felt very much the same way. Pick hadn't even wanted to meet her.

That was either incredibly stupid or admirable.

Because Stecker had grown very fond of Pickering, he gave his buddy the benefit of the doubt. It was admirable. Sir Pick, riding off to the Crusades, vowing to stay chastely faithful to Maid Martha while she remained pure and untouched in Castle Pensacola.

Stecker looked out the window and saw they were riding beside the hurricane fence that surrounded the Grumman plant. Up ahead he could see the floodlighted area around the gate. Since the cab was not permitted inside the fence, they got out of it by the gate.

Stecker saw a white-hat inside the guard shack. That was unusual. Although there was a small Navy detachment assigned to the factory, the security force was civilian. The officers and white-hats were here to get aircraft through the production lines and out to the fleet and air bases, not to guard the plant.

Pickering paid the cabdriver, and Stecker walked to the gate, taking a copy of their orders from his pocket as he did so.

"Excuse me, Sir," the white-hat said, saluting as he came out of the guard shack. "Is your name Pickering?"

"He's Pickering," Stecker replied with a gesture in the general area of the taxi. He was suddenly afraid that something unpleasant was about to happen. The insignia on the white-hat's sleeve identified him as an aviation motor machinist's mate first class. Sailors holding the Navy's second-highest enlisted grade are not ordinarily found in guard shacks at quarter to six in the morning.

"You're Lieutenant Stecker, then, Sir?"

"Right."

"Wait right there please, Lieutenant," the white-hat said, and went back in the guard shack. Stecker saw him pick up a telephone and dial a number.

The white-hat came back out of the guard shack as Pickering walked up. The white-hat saluted him. Stecker found nothing wrong with the return salute Pickering rendered.

He returns salutes just fine. What gets him in trouble are those vague gestures supposed to be salutes that he gives those senior to him in the military hierarchy.

"Gentlemen," the AMMM1st said, "the senior naval representative aboard would like a word with you. If you'll come with me I have transport." The transport turned out to be a Chevrolet pickup truck painted Navy gray. When they had all crowded into the cab Stecker said, "I wonder why I have this feeling that we're in trouble?"

"May I speak freely, Sir?"

"Please do."

"Where the fuck have you two been? They've been looking for you since yesterday afternoon."

"Who is `they'?"

"First it was Lieutenant Commander Harris. Then, when you didn't show up last night, Commander Schneebelly. He's the senior naval representative, and he's been shitting a brick."

"Do you have any idea what it's all about?"

"I know there was a message from the Navy Department. I don't know what was in it. Where the hell have you been Night on the town? I hope she was worth it."

"This officer was carousing and consorting with loose women," Pickering said piously. "I myself went to bed early and of course, alone. I should have known that if I associate with him, he would sooner or later get me in trouble."

"Why don't I believe that, Lieutenant?" the petty office asked.

"That he would get me in trouble?"

"That you went to bed early and alone. You could ha come out here and done that."

"I have to keep an eye on him. He tends to run amok."

"This may not be as funny as you seem to think it is" Stecker said. "Did you do anything at Pee-cola I don't know about?"

"Can't think of a thing," Pick said truthfully.

The pickup pulled up before the Operations Building, Quonset hut.

"Here we are," the petty officer said. "Good luck. Commander Schneebelly sometimes gets a little excited." They stepped out of the truck and walked into the Quonset hut.

A chief petty officer was leaning on a counter. He stood erect he saw them.

"Good morning, Chief," Stecker said.

"Mr.... ?"

"Stecker, and this is Mr. Pickering."

"Commander Schneebelly will see you now, gentlemen," the chief said, pointing to a closed door.

Motioning Pickering to follow him, Stecker walked to the door and knocked.

"Come!"

"Stand at attention when we get in there and keep your mouth shut," Stecker said softly, and then opened the door and marched in.

He came to attention before Commander Schneebelly's desk.

"Sir, Lieutenants Stecker and Pickering reporting as ordered, Sir." Commander Schneebelly was short and plump; he wore both a pencil-line mustache and aviator's wings.

He pursed his lips.

"Stand at ease, gentlemen," he said softly, and then far less softly, "Where the hell have you two been?"

"Sir, our orders state `not later than zero six-thirty' this morning," Stecker said. "Sir, with respect, it's zero five fifty-five."

"That's not what I asked, Mister!" Commander Schneebelly snapped. "And I can tell time, thank you. Don't tell me what your orders say. I asked you, where have you been?"

"Permission to speak, Sir?" Pickering said, and Stecker winced.

"Speak!"

"Sir, this is all my fault. We spent the night at my grandfather's house. Lieutenant Stecker wanted to come right out here, but I talked him out of it." Commander Schneebelly considered that for a moment.

"Goddamn it, Mister, don't you have the brains you were born with? Doesn't your grandfather have a telephone? Is there some reason you couldn't have called out here and said that you would report in this morning?"

"No excuse, Sir," Pickering said.

"Goddamn it, son, you're an officer in the Naval Service.

You've got to learn to think."

"Yes, Sir." Commander Schneebelly glowered at both of them for another thirty seconds. But it seemed longer. He then handed Pickering a sheet of teletype paper.

URGENT

NAVY DEPT WASH DC 1530 31AUG42

TO: FLAG OFFICER COMMANDING

NAS PENSACOLA FLA

SENIOR NAVAL REPRESENTATIVE

GRUMMAN AIRCRAFT CORPORATION

BETHPAGE LI NY

1. THIS MESSAGE CONFIRMS VARIOUS TELEPHONE CONVERSATIONS OF THIS DATE BETWEEN CAPT D.W.

GOBLE, AND COMM F.L. TAYLOR, NAS PENSACOLA; COMM J.W. SCHNEEBELLY AND LTCOM B.T. HARRIS, OFFICE OF NAVAL REPRESENTATIVE, GRUMMAN AIRCRAFT CORP BETHPAGE LI NY AND CAPT J. T. HAUGH- TON, OFFICE OF SECNAV.

2. THE SECRETARY OF THE NAVY DESIRES THE PRESENCE OF 2ND LT M.S. PICKERING, USMCR AND 2ND

LT RICHARD J. STECKER, USMC IN WASHINGTON, D.C.

NOT LATER THAN 1600 1 SEPTEMBER 1942.

3. SENIOR NAVREP GRUMMAN WILL AT THE EARLIEST POSSIBLE TIME DIRECT SUBJECT OFFICERS TO

SCHEDULE AN INTERMEDIATE STOP AT ANACOSTIA NAS ARRIVING THERE AT NOT LATER THAN 1600 HOURS DURING FERRY FLIGHT BETHPAGE DASH PENSACOLA AND BE PREPARED TO SPEND NOT MORE THAN TWENTY- FOUR HOURS IN WASHINGTON.

4. SENIOR NAVREP GRUMMAN WILL BY THE MOST EXPEDITIOUS MEANS, PREFERABLY TELEPHONE, INFORM

OFFICE SECNAVOF (A) TRANSMITTALTOSUBJECTOFFICERS OF ORDERS IN 2. AND 3. ABOVE; (B) OF DEPARTURE OF SUBJECT OFFICERS FROM BETHPAGE AND ESTIMATED TIME OF ARRIVAL AT ANACOSTIA.

By DIRECTION:

HAUGHTON, CAPT, USN, ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICER TO SECNAV

Pick read it and then looked at Commander Schneebelly.

"May I show this to Mr. Stecker, Sir?" Schneebelly made an impatient gesture signifying that he might.

What the hell is this? Stecker wondered.

"What the hell is this all about?" Commander Schneebelly asked. "Do you know?"

"No, Sir," Stecker said.

"No, Sir," Pickering parroted.

"I have been just a little curious," Schneebelly said, "and so I am sure, have people at Pensacola. What possible interest could the Secretary of the Navy have in two second lieutenants?" Neither Stecker nor Pickering replied.

"All right. Now let me tell you what's going to happen. I have personally drawn up a flight plan for you. It is approximately 230 air miles between here and Anacostia, passing over Lakehurst NAS. At a cruising speed of 280 knots, that indicates an approximate flight time of forty-eight minutes. We will figure on one hour, just to be safe. We will also schedule your arrival time at Anacostia for 1500 hours, rather than 1600.

That means you will take off from here precisely at 1400 hours.

Between now and 1400, you will ensure that your uniforms are shipshape, and get yourselves haircuts. You will not leave the plant grounds, and you will keep me, and/or the chief, advised of your location at all times. Clear? Any questions?"

"Sir, what about test-flying the airplanes?" Stecker asked.

"The airplanes will have been test-flown before you sign for them. I'll do it myself, as a matter of fact,"

"Sir, with respect, I'd prefer to do that myself."

"No one particularly cares what you would prefer to do, Mister."

"Sir, with respect, that's called for by regulations."

"You really are a wise guy, aren't you, Mister?"

"I don't mean to be, Sir."

"Very well, Mister, you will conduct the pre-ferry test flight."

"Thank you, Sir."

"Chief" Commander Schneebelly called, raising his voice.

The door opened and the chief stuck his head in.

"Chief, these officers are going to conduct pre-ferry test flights of their aircraft and then they are going to get haircuts and have their uniforms pressed. Would you please go with them and see that they have every possible assistance?"

"Aye, aye, Sir."

"Don't let them out of your sight, Chief."

(Four)

THE FOSTER LAFAYETTE HOTEL

WASHINGTON, D.C.

1710 HOURS I SEPTEMBER 1942

There was a knock. And Senator Richmond F. Fowler went to the door of his suite to answer it.

Two young men were standing in the hotel corridor. One wore a suit that bulged under the left armpit. The other was a Lieutenant Commander of the United States Navy in high=collared whites. From his shoulder was suspended the golden cords of an aide to the President of the United States.

The collars of both were wilted by sweat, and there were sweat-soaked patches under the jacket armpits.

"Good evening, Senator," the Secret Service agent said. "I'm Special Agent McNulty of the Presidential detail." Fowler nodded at him but did not speak.

We have a White House car, Senator, whenever you and Captain Pickering are ready," Secret Service Agent McNulty said.

"Please thank the President," Senator Fowler said, "and tell him that both the Captain and I are quite able to walk across the street and would prefer to do so."

"There has been a change of plans, Senator," the Naval aide said. "I'm Commander Jellington, Sir, the President's Naval aide."

Fowler looked at him and waited for him to go on. When he did not, Fowler said, "Is the change of plans really a matter of national security, Commander? Or are you going to tell me what the change is?"

"Dinner will be aboard the Potomac, Senator," McNulty answered for him.

"Hence, the Naval aide, right?" Fowler said. "Come in."

"Thank you, Sir," they said almost in unison.

"Actually, Sir," Commander Jellington said, "the President sent me to be of whatever assistance I could to Captain Pickering.

"Rendering assistance to Captain Pickering is right up there with trying to pet an alligator -constipated alligator," Fowler added. "You stand a good chance of having the friendly hand bitten off at the shoulder." He led the two down a corridor to the sitting room, which was on the corner of the building.

"There has been a change of plans, Fleming," Fowler announced to what looked like an empty room. "We are going to dine on the Potomac.

"What does that mean?" Pickering's voice came from a high-backed leather chair placed directly in front of the room s air-conditioning duct.

"The Potomac is the Presidential yacht, Sir," Commander Jellington said.

Pickering rose from the chair. He was dressed in a T-shirt and boxer shorts. He was shoeless, but wearing calf-high black. St stockings held in place by garters. Bandages across his one could be seen through the thin cotton of the T-shirt.

Neither the Naval aide nor the Secret Service agent seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary.

"Good afternoon, Captain Pickering," the Naval aide said. "Sir, I'm Commander Jellington. The President thought I might in some way be helpful to you."

"Whenever you and the Senator are ready, Sir," Agent McNulty said, "we have a White House car."

The last I heard," Pickering said, glowering at Senator Fowler, "this was going to be cocktails and a simple supper across the street." He gestured with his right arm toward the White House; in his hand he held a bottle of Canadian ale.

"And starting at half past six. It's only five something."

"The President has apparently changed his mind," Fowler said. "We are going to dine aboard the Potomac. And may I suggest that it behooves you, Captain, as a Naval officer, to manifest a cheerful and willing obedience to the desires of your commander in chief?"

"That sonofabitch," Captain Pickering said. "I should have known he'd pull something like this."

The eyes of Special Agent McNulty widened. He was not used to hearing the President referred to in such terms, much less by someone about to be honored with the great privilege of an intimate dinner with the President aboard the Presidential yacht.

"I think we should all remember that Captain Pickering is a wounded hero," Senator Fowler said, a touch of amusement in his voice, "just recently released from the hospital. And we all know that wounded heroes are a little crazy and have to be humored, don't we?"

"Fuck you, Senator," Captain Pickering said.

McNulty was more than a little uncomfortable. It was one of those situations not neatly covered by regulations and policy.

On one hand he took very seriously (his wife said "religiously") his duty to protect the President of the United States from all threats, real or potential: Here was a man who'd obviously been drinking, who angrily referred to the President as "that sonofabitch," who was just out of the hospital, and was quite possibly at least a little off the tracks, mentally speaking. A rational man did not say "Fuck you!" to a man like Senator Richmond Fowler.

On the other hand Senator Fowler seemed more amused than disturbed by Pickering's behavior, and it could be presumed that the Senator was at least nearly as concerned with the safety of the President as the Secret Service.

McNulty realized that he had two options: He could get on the phone and tell the supervisory agent on duty that he had a potential loony here who'd been at the bottle and should not be allowed anywhere near the President. The trouble was that the loony was not only the President's personal invitee, but a very close personal friend of Senator Fowler. Indeed, he was living in the Senator's hotel suite; and the Senator had not gone bananas when this Pickering guy told him to fuck himself.

Option two was to say nothing but keep a close eye on him.

"Commander," Senator Fowler said, "Captain Pickering has a nice fresh uniform in that bedroom. Perhaps you'd be good enough to help him into it?"

"You stay where you are, Commander!" Captain Pickering ordered. He marched across the room, entered the bedroom, and closed the door.

A moment later it opened again.

"Commander," Captain Pickering said, almost humbly, "if you wouldn't mind, I could use some help."

"Yes, Sir," the Naval aide said.

Special Agent McNulty decided that for the time being, option two seemed best.

"I'll give you a hand, Jellington," he said and followed him into Captain Pickering's bedroom.

[Five]

THE WASHINGTON NAVY YARD

1750 HOURS I SEPTEMBER 1942

Two limousines drove onto the wharf, where they were immediately stopped by neatly dressed men in business suits. The first limousine held a Naval aide to the President of the United States and a member of the Secret Service Presidential Security detail. There was a wave of recognition; then the limousine, Cadillac, was given a wave of permission to drive farther down the wharf.

Instead, the Secret Service agent got out of the Presidential 1941 Cadillac.

He indicated the second limousine, a 1942 Packard 280.

"Senator Fowler and Captain Pickering are in that one," McNulty said to his Secret Service colleagues. "I'll identify them for you." One of his colleagues asked the obvious question: "Why aren't they riding in the White House car?"

"Because the Senator's Packard is air conditioned, and the White House car isn't, " McNulty said.

He opened the front-seat passenger door in time to hear Senator Fowler say, "Now for God's sake, Fleming, when we go on board, watch your mouth. You've been at the sauce all afternoon."

"Just pull up behind the other car," McNulty said to Fowler's chauffeur.

There was a twenty-foot-high wall of corrugated paper boxes on the wharf, leaving just enough room for a car to pass between it and the small white ship tied up at the wharf.

Or a truck, Fleming Pickering decided, once he was out of the Packard. That stuff is intended for a ship's galleys. This place really is a working Navy yard, not just a place for the President to park his yacht.

He looked down the hull of the Potomac. Perfect paint. No a speck of rust. A lifeboat, forward, had been swung out on davits. The tide was such that the main deck was within a couple of inches of the wharf, a simple gangplank was in place.

I wonder how they get Roosevelt on here when the Potomac is much lower or higher than the wharf?

The answer came immediately: Hell, a couple of Secret Service guys make a basket of their hands and carry him on. How else? Christ, maybe Fowler's right and I am half in the bag.

"Right this way, please, gentlemen," Commander Jellington said, and led them to the gangplank.

Two sailors in undress white uniforms stood at either side of the gangplank at parade rest.

Join the Navy and see the Potomac, Pickering thought cynically and then was immediately ashamed of the cynicism.

The sailors came to attention as he started onto the gangplank.

"Good evening," Pickering said and smiled at them.

A full Lieutenant and two more sailors stood on the deck at the end of the gangplank.

At the last moment Pickering remembered his Naval courtesy, and that the Potomac was legally a ship of the line.

"Permission to come aboard, Sir," he asked.

"Granted." Pickering saluted the National Colors and then the officer of the deck.

"The President asks that you join him on the fantail, Sir," the officer of the deck said, and gestured toward the stern of the ship.

Canvas had been hung from the overhead to the rail along the dock side of the Potomac, obviously to shield the vessel from the eyes of the curious. But when he reached the fantail, he saw the river side was open. Or at least only covered by mosquito netting.

The President was sitting in an upholstered wicker chair, facing away from the wharf.

What the hell is the protocol? Do I just walk in and say hello?

There was another Naval officer on the fantail, wearing a somewhat wilted white uniform, with four stars on each shoulder board, the insignia of a full admiral.

Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to the President, was sitting on a wicker couch and holding a glass of what looked like iced coffee.

He looks, Pickering thought, a good deal older than the last time I saw him.

He then remembered hearing somewhere that while Leahy had been Ambassador to Vichy France, his wife had suddenly taken ill and died. It was said that Leahy had taken it badly.

That probably explains why he looks so old, Pickering thought. Then he wondered, What the hell am I supposed to do?

Salute him? Jesus Christ, what am I doing in the Navy?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt solved Pickering's dilemma. He looked over his shoulder, saw him, and smiled.

"Fleming, my dear fellow!" he said. "How good to see you! Come in and sit down by me."

"Good evening, Mr. President," Pickering said. Something was tugging at his hat. He had without thinking about it tucked it under the cast on his left arm. He looked and saw a white-jacketed Navy steward smiling at him.

"Let me have that, please, Sir." Pickering raised his arm, and the uniform cap disappeared.

He then walked across the deck to Roosevelt.

Roosevelt offered his hand. The grip was surprisingly strong.

"Good evening, Mr. President," Pickering repeated.

Jesus, he does get to me. I already said that.

"I believe you know Bill Leahy, don't you, Fleming?"

"I have had that privilege," Pickering said. "Good evening, Admiral."

"Pickering," Leahy said.

"Sit down and tell me your pleasure," Roosevelt said. "Does your medical condition permit alcohol?"

"It demands it, Sir," Pickering said.

The steward who had snatched his cap was back at his side.

"What may I get you, Sir?"

"Scotch, please. Water. Not much ice."

"And there is my favorite Republican," Roosevelt said, beaming at Senator Fowler. "Richmond, it's good to see you."

"Mr. President," Fowler said formally, making a nod that could have been a bow.

While Pickering was lowering himself into the wicker chair beside Roosevelt, he felt the Potomac shudder as the propellers were engaged.

Christ, they were waiting for us to get under way!

"How are you, Admiral?" Fowler asked.

"Very well, thank you, Senator."

"Richmond," the President said, "could I ask you to excuse us a moment?

There's a little business I'd like to get out of the way, before we..

"Of course, Mr. President," Fowler said.

One of the stewards held open for Fowler a sliding glass door to an aft cabin and then stepped inside after him. A second steward put a glass in Pickering's hand and then followed the first into the aft cabin.

"I'd like you to do something for me, Fleming," Roosevelt said, laying a hand on Pickering's arm.

"I'm at your command, Sir."

"But there are a few matters I'd like to get straight, if you will," Roosevelt said, "about your previous contributions to the war effort."

"Of course, Mr. President."

"I understand that you met with Bill Donovan right after the war started, isn't that so?"

"Yes, Sir, it is." William S. Donovan, a New York lawyer, had been asked by Roosevelt to establish an organization to coordinate all United States intelligence activities (except counter intelligence, which was handled in the U.S. and Latin America by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. The organization evolved first into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and ultimately into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

"I understand that your talk with Donovan didn't go well,"

"That's correct, Sir." Where the hell did he hear that? Did Donovan fell him? Or Richmond Fowler?

Roosevelt laughed.

"Forgive me. But you and Bill are the immovable object and the irresistible force. I'm really not at all surprised. I would love to have been a fly on the wall."

"Actually, Sir, it was quite civil. He asked me to become sort of a clerk to a banker whom I knew, and I respectfully declined the honor." Pickering sensed Leahy's eyes on him, glanced at him, and was surprised to see what could have been a smile on his lips and in his eyes.

"And then, as I understand it," Roosevelt went on, "when you went to The Marines and offered your services, they respectfully declined the honor?"

"They led me to believe, Mr. President," Pickering replied, smiling back at Roosevelt, who was quietly beaming at his play on words, "that as desperate as they were for manpower, there was really no place in The Corps for a forty-six-year-old corporal. "

"And then you went to Frank Knox, and he arranged for you to be commissioned into the Navy?" That wasn't the way it happened. Frank Knox came to me and asked me to accept the commission.

"Yes, Sir," Pickering said.

`Admiral Leahy and I have just about concluded that was a mistake," Roosevelt said.

"So have I, Mr. President. I-"

"I don't think the President means to suggest that you're not qualified to be a Naval captain, Captain," Leahy broke in quickly. "I certainly don't. Your conduct aboard the Gregory put to rest any doubts about your competence. And I was one of those who never had any doubts."

"I didn't mean that the way it sounded, Fleming," Roosevelt said.

"I respectfully disagree, Admiral," Pickering said. "I should not be a Naval officer, period."

"Now with that, " Roosevelt said, "I agree."

"As soon as I can discuss the matter with Secretary Knox, Mr. President, I intend to ask him to let me out of the Service."

"I know," Roosevelt said. "He told me. I'm afraid that's quite impossible, Fleming. Out of the question."

"I don't quite understand," Pickering said.

`You're familiar, of course, with the Office of Management Analysis in Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps?"

Pickering thought a moment, came up with nothing, and replied, "No, Sir. I am not."

"Does the name Rickabee mean anything to you, Pickering." Leahy asked.

"Yes," Pickering replied immediately. "Yes, indeed. Outstanding man."

"He heads the Office of Management Analysis," Roosevelt said a trifle smugly.

"Yes, Sir," Pickering said, feeling quite stupid. He had never actually met Lieutenant Colonel F. L. Rickabee, USMC, but he had seen how efficiently the man could operate. He had, in fact, vowed to find Rickabee in Washington, to shake his hand, and say thank you.

Among the long list of Navy brass actions in the Pacific that were outrageously stupid in Fleming Pickering's view was their handling of the Royal Australian Navy Coastwatcher Establishment.

When the Japanese began their march down the Solomon Islands chain toward New Guinea, Australia, and New Zealand, the Australians hastily recruited plantation managers, schoolteachers, government technicians, shipping officials, and even a couple of missionaries who had lived on the islands.

They hastily commissioned these people as junior officers in the Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve and left them behind on the islands, equipped with shortwave radios and small arms.

They were in a position to provide-at great risk to their lives-extremely valuable intelligence regarding Japanese Army and Navy movements, strength, location, and probable intentions. But the Navy arrogantly judged that information coming from natives who were not professional Navy types couldn't possibly be genuinely valuable.

Later, when the value of the Coastwatcher-provided intelligence could no longer be denied, the Navy brass decided that it was now far too important to he left to the administration of the lowly Royal Australian Navy Reserve Lieutenant Commander who was in charge. The U.S. Navy would take over and do it right, in other words.

Pickering heard of the situation from an old friend, Fitzhugh Boyer, who had been Pacific and Far East Shipping's agent in Melbourne and was now a Rear Admiral in the Royal Australian Navy. Fitz Boyer introduced him to Lieutenant Commander Eric Feldt, who was running the Coastwatcher Establishment, and who cheerfully confessed to being a little less than charming to the detachment of U.S. Navy officers who had shown up in Townsville to take over his operation.

Fitz Boyer told Pickering that it was unfortunately true that Feldt did indeed tell the captain who led the detachment that unless he left Townsville that very day, he was going to tear his head off and stick it up his anal cavity.

That same day Pickering fired off an URGENT radio to Frank Knox, recommending that a highly qualified intelligence officer be sent to Australia as soon as possible, with orders to place himself at Feldt's disposal, and with the means to provide Feldt with whatever assistance, especially financial, Feldt needed.

Nine days later, Major Edward J. Banning, USMC, former Intelligence Officer of the Fourth Marines in Shanghai, got off a plane in Melbourne carrying a cashier's check drawn on the Treasury of the United States for a quarter of a million dollars.

He was accompanied by a sergeant. Within days the balance of Marine Corps Special Detachment 14, along with crates of the very best shortwave radios and other equipment, began to arrive by priority air shipment.

Banning and Feldt were two of a kind; they hit it off immediately. Not only that, Banning and his detachment proved to be precisely what Pickering had hoped for but thought he had little chance of getting.

Soon after a pair of U.S. Marines was parachuted onto Buka Island to augment the Coastwatcher operation there, Pickering confessed to Banning that he was astonished at the high quality of the people Frank Knox had sent him; and he was equally surprised that they'd arrived so quickly. And Banning replied that the man responsible was Rickabee.

"Mr. Knox is a wise man," Banning said. "He gave this job to Colonel Rickabee, together with the authority, and then let him do it."

That was the first time Pickering heard of Rickabee. But before he was ordered home, he'd had many other dealings with the man; and each contact confirmed his first impression: Rickabee was a man who got things done.

"Colonel Rickabee and you have many things in common, Fleming," Roosevelt said, smiling. "For instance, some people-not me, of course, but some people-think you both have abrasive personalities." Roosevelt waited for a reply, got none, and then went on.

"Another way to phrase that is that neither of you can suffer fools. As I'm sure you've learned, fools find that attitude distressing. That doesn't bother you, I know, but it does affect Rickabee."

"I don't think I follow you, Mr. President."

"When Admiral Leahy let the word out that the promotion of Lieutenant Colonel Rickabee to brigadier general was being considered, it was not greeted with enthusiasm. Quite the reverse."

"I think he would make a splendid general officer," Pickering said.

"So do I," Leahy said. "I've known him for a long time.

Even before I was Chief of Naval Operations, he did special jobs for me.

And he has done special jobs for me since."

"We have reached a certain meeting of the minds vis-a-vis Colonel Rickabee," Roosevelt said. "General Holcomb, the Marine Commandant, has recommended his promotion to colonel. Though I was prepared to send his name to the Senate for confirmation as a brigadier general without the approval of The Marine Corps, Admiral Leahy tells me that would have been counterproductive... and not only because it would have caused a lot of talk, which is exactly what Rickabee and the Office of Management Analysis does not want or need."

Jesus Christ, what bullshit! Pickering fumed. A damned good man can't get promoted because of the prima donnas!

"Colonel Rickabee's promotion doesn't solve the problem," Admiral Leahy said. "Which is, in rank-inflated Washington, that a general officer is needed to head up the Office of Management Analysis."

"Yes," Pickering thought out loud, "I can understand that."

"Good," Roosevelt said. "That's where you come in, Fleming."

"Sir," Pickering said, surprised, "I wouldn't have any idea whom to recommend for that. Nor would I presume to make such a recommendation."

"That's been done for you," Roosevelt said. "What Leahy and I have concluded is that the man in charge of the Office of Management Analysis should be someone who not only has experience at the upper levels of the Navy Department, say working closely with the Secretary of the Navy..

Christ, he's not talking about me, is he?

"... but who has also had firsthand experience with the war in the Pacific, and most importantly..."

Jesus H. Christ, he is!

"... is a Marine with extensive combat experience, say someone who won the Distinguished Service Cross in the First World War, and who in this war has been awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the Legion of Merit."

What's he talking about, the Legion of Merit?

"Are you beginning to get the picture, Fleming?" Roosevelt asked.

"Mr. President..."

Roosevelt reached to the table beside him, opened an oblong box, and took a medal on its ribbon from it.

"Captain Pickering," he said, motioning for Pickering to lean over to him. He pinned the medal to Pickering's uniform.

"It is my great privilege, on the recommendation of the Commanding General, First Marine Division, to invest you with the Legion of Merit for your distinguished service as Acting G-2, First Marine Division, during combat operations on Guadalcanal."

"I don't deserve a medal for that," Pickering protested. "I was just filling in-the G-2 was killed-until they could get someone qualified in there."

"I think we can safely leave that judgment to General Vandergrift," Roosevelt said. "He made that recommendation, of course, without being aware that Admiral Leahy and I had something in mind for you."

"Mr. President, you can't really be thinking of-"

"Your name was sent to the Senate this afternoon, Fleming, for their advice and consent to your commission as Brigadier General, USMC Reserve. Now I realize that Richmond Fowler and I agree about very little, but I rather suspect that when I ask him to support your nomination, he'll come along... in a bipartisan gesture."

"I will be hated in The Marine Corps," Pickering said.

"Possibly," Admiral Leahy said. "But you're already hated in the Navy, so nothing is lost there. And no Marine is likely to criticize a fellow Marine with a record like yours. General Vandergrift does not hand out decorations like the Legion of Merit lightly." The President raised his voice slightly.

"Commander Jellington!" The glass door to the cabin slid open.

"Yes, Mr. President?"

"Commander, would you ask the other gentlemen to join us, please?"

"Yes, Mr. President."

Even though both Brigadier General D. G. McInerney, USMC, and Commander Jellington, USN, had given him an intense briefing on protocol in the presence of the President of the United States, the first of the President's other guests promptly forgot all he'd heard when he walked onto the fantail of the Potomac and saw Fleming Pickering with his arm in a cast.

"Jesus Christ, Dad!" he demanded. "What happened to YOU?"

Chapter Five

[One]

FERDINAND SIX

BUKA, SOLOMON ISLANDS

4 SEPTEMBER 1942

As Sergeant Steven M. Koffler, USMC, knelt before the key of his Hallicrafters and waited for the dials to come to life, he was suffering from a severe case of the I-Feel-Sorry-for-Me syndrome.

In his judgment, with the exception of the inevitable failure of the Hallicrafters (which could happen at any time), everything that could go wrong had gone wrong.

When the officers left seven days ago to see what they could steal from the Japanese, they planned to be back in five or six days. They were now overdue. That probably meant they were not going to come back.

And that meant that the Japanese would probably be here sooner rather than later.

Although he was a uniformed member of an armed force engaged in combat against enemy armed forces and thus entitled under the Geneva Convention to treatment as a prisoner of war, Koffler was well aware that the Japanese had different views of such obligations than Americans.

Back in Townsville, to make sure that Sergeant Koffler and Lieutenant Howard really knew what they were letting themselves in for, Commander Feldt had explained the differences in some detail: If the Japanese captured them, presuming they did not kill them outright, Koffler and Howard should hope for a Japanese officer who believed they were indeed U.S. Marines and thus entitled to treatment as fellow warriors.

That meant he'd have them executed according to the Code of Bushido:

First they would dig their own graves. Then a member of the Japanese Armed Forces of equal or superior rank would behead them with a Japanese sword. Following the execution, prayers would be said over their graves, and entries would be made in official Japanese records of the date and place of their execution and burial. Presuming the records were not destroyed, that would be handy, after the war, for the disinterment of their remains and their return to the United States.

It was equally possible, Commander Feldt went on matter-of-factly, that they'd be regarded as spies and not soldiers. In that case, they'd he interrogated-read tortured-then executed in a less ritualistic manner. With a little luck they'd get a pistol bullet in the ear. More likely they'd serve as targets for bayonet practice. Of course, no record would be kept of their execution or place of burial. Thus they'd be listed officially as missing in action and presumed dead.

Later, Lieutenant Howard pointed out why Commander Feldt had gone so thoroughly into the unpleasant details: He wanted to make sure they knew how important it was for them not to get captured.

"So far as Feldt is concerned, " Lieutenant Howard said, "we should have absolutely no contact with the Japs. None. But if we are captured, we should not give them any information. When the Cavalry was fighting the Apaches after the Civil War, they always saved one cartridge for themselves. The Apaches were worse than the Japs. They liked to roast their prisoners over slow fires. You understand?"

"Yes, Sir.

The dials came to life. Koffler threw the switch to TRANSMIT and worked the key. The dots and dashes went out, repeated three times, spelling out, simply, FRD6. FRD6. FRD6.

Detachment A of Special Marine Corps Detachment 14 is attempting to establish contact with any station on this communications network.

There was no reply. He put his hand on the key again.

FRD6. FRD6. FRD6. FRD6. FRD6. FRD6.

There was a reply: KCY.???.KCY.???.KCY.???

This is the United States Pacific Fleet Radio Station at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii.

Is there someone trying to contact me?

KCY.FRD6.KCY.FRD6.KCY.FRD6.

FRD6. KCY. FRD6. KCY URSIG 2Xl. GA.

Detachment A of Special Marine Corps Detachment 14, this is the United States Pacific Fleet Radio. Your signal is weak and barely readable. Go ahead.

Fucking radio. Fucking atmospherics. Fucking sunspots.

Fuck fuck fuck.

KCY. FRD6. SB CODE.

CINCPAC Radio Pearl Harbor, stand by to copy encrypted message.

FRD6. KCY. RPT URS IG 2X 1. GA.

Detachment A of Special Marine Corps Detachment 14, this is the United States Pacific Fleet Radio. Repeat, your signal is weak and barely readable. Go ahead.

After six tries, Detachment A of Special Marine Corps Detachment 14 was able to relay to the United States Pacific Fleet headquarters in Pearl Harbor that an enemy bomber force of twenty Betty bombers, escorted by an estimated thirty Zero fighters, had passed overhead at an approximate altitude of 13,000 feet on a course that would take them to Guadalcanal.

FRD6. KCY. AKN. CLR.

Detachment A, this is Pearl Harbor. Your transmission is acknowledged.

Pearl Harbor Clear.

KCY. FRD6. FU2 AND GOOD AFTERNOON. FRD6. CLR.

FU was not in the list of authorized abbreviations, but it was not difficult for the United States Pacific Fleet operator in Pearl Harbor to make the translation; every radio operator knew what it meant. He had just been told to attempt a physiologically impossible act of self-impregnation. Since regulations did not permit the transmission of personal messages and/or greetings, the Pearl Harbor operator concluded that wherever FRD6 was, and whoever he was, he had really stuck his neck out by getting drunk on duty.

[Two]

FOSTER LAFAYETTE HOTEL

WASHINGTON, D.C.

1525 HOURS 4 SEPTEMBER 1942

Because Fleming Pickering ate lunch late that afternoon, when there was a knock at Senator Fowler's door, he thought it was the floor waiter come to remove the remnants of the tray of hors d'oeuvres they had sent him from the Grill Room.

But it wasn't the floor waiter, it was the concierge. He was helping a mousy-looking little man carry two large stacks of cardboard boxes. Each box bore the corporate insignia of Brooks Brothers.

He knew what they were.

"Put them in that bedroom, please," he said, pointing.

When he signed the receipt the mousy-looking man handed him, he said, "Please tell Mr. Abraham that I'm grateful for the quick service. And for sending you down here personally."

"Our pleasure, Captain Pickering," the mousy little man said. "You told Mr. Abraham, `as soon as possible." And I had a nice lunch on the train." Once they were gone, Pickering looked at the boxes now neatly stacked on the bed and the chest of drawers, shook his head, exhaled audibly, and went back into the sitting room.

Yesterday afternoon, after Pick and Jack Stecker's boy left, Dr. Selleres got him to the office of an orthopedic surgeon.

Selleres' pretext was to make a more comfortable cast for Pickering's arm. But his actual motive was to have the arm X-rayed-which was done. Then it was placed in a much less substantial cast than the Navy had given him at San Diego.

Though Pickering had been reluctant to go, he was now pleased that he did. For one thing, Selleres got on the phone afterward and assured Patricia that her husband's arm was well on the way to recovery... and not about to fall off or develop gangrene. But more important, he could now put his arm through a shirtsleeve.

Pickering, who was wearing a light seersucker robe, boxer shorts, and a pair of the Foster Lafayette's throwaway cotton shower slippers, went back to the leisurely postprandial rest that the man from Brooks Brothers had interrupted. He poured himself another cup of black coffee-the last the silver pitcher held-sat down on the couch, put his feet up on the coffee table, and picked up The New York Times.

There came another knock at the door.

That has to be the floor waiter.

"Come in." He heard the door open and sensed movement in the room, but no one appeared to roll the room service cart away.

"Get me another pot of coffee, would you, please? I won't need any sugar or cream."

"General Pickering, I'm Captain Sessions, Sir, from Management Analysis." Pickering looked over his shoulder. A tall, well-set-up young man was standing in the open door. His black hair was styled in a crew cut, and he was wearing a well-fitting, if sweatdampened, green elastique summer uniform. He carried a heavily stuffed leather briefcase and a newspaper.

"I thought you were the floor waiter," Pickering said.

"Come in, please." Then he blurted what he was thinking: "That's the first time anyone has called me that. `General.,

"Then I'm honored, General."

"I'm about to order some coffee. Can I get you anything?"

"Would iced tea be possible?"

"How about a cold beer, Captain? That's what I really want."

"A general officer's desire is a captain's command, Sir."

Pickering chuckled.

Nice kid. He's not much older than Pick.

Pickering picked up the telephone. "This is Captain-strike that-General Pickering. Would you send the floor waiter to clear things away, please? And have him put a half dozen bottles of Feigenspan ale in a wine cooler with some ice." He stopped. "That all right? Feigenspan?"

"Just fine, Sir."

"Thank you," Pickering said to the telephone and hung it up. "What can I do for you, Captain?"

"Colonel Rickabee's compliments, Sir. He asked me to express his regrets for not coming here himself. He's playing golf with the Deputy Commandant." Playing golf, Jesus Christ!

"War is hell, isn't it, Captain?"

"General, with respect, Colonel Rickabee regularly meets with the Commandant; or if the Commandant is not available, with the Deputy Commandant. The back nine holes at the Army and Navy Country Club is a fine place to hold a confidential conversation."

"My mouth ran away with me," Pickering said. "Sorry."

"I can understand why it sounded a bit odd, General."

"We're back to, `what can I do for you, Captain?"

"There's a good deal of paperwork to be signed, General-"

"I'll bet," Pickering interrupted.

Sessions smiled, and then went on, "-but first things first.

Has the General seen The Washington Star?" Pickering shook his head and reached for the newspaper Sessions extended to him.

"It's on the lower right-hand corner of the second section, General." Pickering found what Sessions thought he should see:

SHIPPING MAGNATE ENTERS MARINE CORPS

Washington Sept 3 - The White House this afternoon announced that it had been advised by the Senate of its consent to the appointment of Fleming Pickering as Brigadier General, USMC Reserve.

Presidential Press Secretary Stephen Early said that Pickering, an old and close friend of the President, will head the Marine Corps Office of Management Analysis, which has responsibility for increasing efficiency of Marine Corps' supply acquisition and distribution.

Pickering, who before the war was Chairman of the Board of Pacific and Far East Shipping Corporation, has been serving as a temporary Captain, U.S. Navy Reserve, and only recently returned from the Pacific, where he was a Special Representative of Navy Secretary Frank Knox on logistics matters.

"Both the President and Secretary Knox felt that Pickering would be more effective as a Marine officer," Press Secretary Early reported. "He brings to his new duties not only his extensive shipping experience, but those of his previous service as a Marine." He said that Pickering was three times wounded and earned the Distinguished Service Cross and the Croix de Guerre as a Marine in France in World War 1.

"And like the President," Early added, "he has a son in The Marine Corps." Captain James Roosevelt participated in the recent Marine Corps raid on Makin Island. Second Lieutenant Malcolm S. Pickering recently completed training as a Marine Corps fighter pilot and is believed en route to the Pacific.

Pickering will assume his new duties, according to Early, "just as soon as he can get into uniform."

"Not that I am one to believe much that I read in any newspaper," Pickering said, "but this really strays from the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but, doesn't it?"

"Actually, we were very pleased with it, General."

"We? Who's we?"

"Colonel Rickabee and me, Sir. He saw it first and told me to get a copy before I came over here."

"Just for openers, I am not an old and close friend of Mr. Roosevelt."

"And the Office of Management Analysis does not, as you know, Sir, have anything to do with logistics," Sessions said, smiling. "But it is almost always to our advantage if people have the wrong idea. And, General, with respect, there are people in this town who would kill to have The Star report that they are old and close friends of Mr. Roosevelt." Pickering considered that and chuckled.

"I'm sure you're right, Captain," he said. "You're an interesting young man. What's your backgrounds How'd you get involved... in your line of work?" Before he could reply, there was another knock at the door.

"May 1, Sir?" Sessions asked.

He went to the door and opened it. The floor waiter and a busboy came in, wheeled the floor service tray out, and left behind a tray of pilsner glasses and two silver champagne buckets, each holding three bottles of ale buried in ice.

"Help yourself," Pickering said, "there's an opener on the bar."

"This is very nice," Sessions said, indicating the champagne buckets.

"They are very nice to me here, probably because my wife's father owns the place."

"Yes, Sir, I know," Sessions said, opening a bottle of ale and handing it to Pickering. He glanced at Pickering as he spoke and saw coldness in his eyes.

"General, we have to know all there is to know about our people. That applies to everybody."

"I'm sure," Pickering said. "You were telling me how you got into this?"

"I served in China, Sir. With then Captain Ed Banning."

"You know Ed Banning?"

"I'm privileged to be his friend, Sir."

"That speaks highly of you, Captain."

"Sir, this may be a little out of line, but I think I should return the compliment. Ed Banning thinks the world of you."

"Two questions at a tangent, Captain?"

"Yes, Sir?"

What about our two people on Buka? You know about I "Yes, Sir. They're still there. Banning is trying to figure out a way to relieve them." Pickering nodded. "I said two questions. I meant three.

Number two: When you were in China, did you happen to meet a young man, a corporal, named McCoy?" Sessions smiled. "Sir, I am happy to report that I am the man, over his bitter objections, who sent the Killer to Officer Candidate School."

"He went to OCS with my son. But I guess you know that."

"Yes, Sir."

"Do you happen to know where McCoy is? The reason I ask-"

"Sir, the Killer's one of us-"

"I suppose I should have guessed that," Pickering said.

"He's on convalescent leave, Sir."

"He was wounded?" Pickering asked, concern in his voice.

"On the Makin raid. But not seriously. The Colonel thought he was entitled to the full thirty days of convalescent leave. He ordered him to take it."

"Question three: Sergeant John Marston Moore?"

"Philadelphia Naval Hospital, Sir. He took some pretty bad shrapnel wounds on Guadalcanal."

"Is he going to be all right?"

"He'll be on limited duty for a while, Sir. But he will be all right. "

"What else do you know about Moore?" Pickering asked innocently. But Sessions knew the question behind the question. He decided to answer it fully.

"He's privy to MAGIC, Sir. You authorized that clearance."

"And didn't tell anybody. Which is why he was sent to Guadalcanal, why he's in the hospital."

"Yes, Sir. I'm familiar with the details."

"You're apparently on the MAGIC list?"

"Yes, Sir. Colonel Rickabee and I both, Sir."

"Not McCoy?"

"No, Sir. Lieutenant McCoy does not have the Need to Know, Sir."

"I appreciate your candor in answering these questions, Captain."

"General, you're the boss."

"Two parts to that statement," Pickering said, "both of which I'm having difficulty accepting."

"Well, then, Sir, why don't we make it official?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"One of the things the General has to do to become a general, General, is sign his resignation from the Navy and his acceptance of his commission as a Marine general. Plus no more than four or five hundred other forms, all of which I just happen to have with me, all neatly typed up." Smiling, he held up the briefcase.

"I even have two spare fountain pens," Sessions went on, and these." He took from the briefcase two pieces of metal, each the size of a license plate. They were painted red and had a silver star fastened to their centers.

"What's that?" Pickering asked, even as he belatedly recognized the plates for what they were.

"That is what brigadier generals mount on their automobiles, fore and aft. I also drew your General's Flag, and the National Colors from Eighth and Eye before I came over here.

But I left those in the car." Headquarters, United States Marine Corps, is at Eighth and I streets, in the District of Columbia.

"What am I supposed to do with a General's Flag?"

"It will be placed in your office, General, which at this very moment is being equipped with the appropriate furniture."

"And who got thrown out of his office so I could have one?"

"A Colonel LaRue, Sir," Sessions replied immediately. "The Colonel is the Marine representative to the Inter-Service Morale and Recreation Council. He was, Sir, very much aware that he was the senior officer in our little building. I don't think Colonel Rickabee was heartbroken when he had to tell him that we required his office space for our General, General."

"Oh, Christ," Pickering said, shaking his head.

"We'll still be pretty much sitting in each other's laps, Sir, but at least there will be nobody in the building but us from now on."

"Well, that's something, I suppose."

"Sir, Colonel Rickabee suggested that we drive down to Quantico this afternoon if you feel up to it."

"Oh? Why?"

"Uniforms, Sir. Colonel Rickabee said to tell you that the concessionaire there, a fellow named A. M. Bolognese, not has very good prices, but is an old friend of his. He could probably turn out some uniforms for you in a couple of days." Pickering gestured toward the bedroom.

"They just arrived. I called Brooks Brothers and they sent a man down on the train with them." Sessions laughed. "Major Banning said that was the way you were, Sir. By the time he thought of something, you'd done it."

"I wish I'd known about this man with the good prices. I hate to think of the bill I'm going to get from Brooks Brothers."

"What exactly did you order, Sir?"

"I told them to send me whatever I would need."

"General, while you're signing all this stuff, why don't I take a look at it?"

"Somebody who knows what he's doing should," Pickering said. "Thank you."

"You'll find a little red pencil check mark every place you're to sign your name, General," Sessions said, going to a desk and unloading the briefcase. "Everything is in at least four copies, all of which have to be signed."

"What if I had broken my right arm?"

"Then you would make a mark, Sir, and I would sign everything, swearing that was your mark." Pickering laughed.

"OK, Captain," he said and walked to the table and sat down.

Sessions uncapped a fountain pen and handed it to him. "If you run out of ink, Sir, there's a spare pen."

"You think two is going to be enough?"

"With a little luck, Sir." By the time he'd taken the documents from one stack, signed his name in the places marked, and put them on a second stack, Pickering had concluded that Sessions was not exaggerating about how many there were. His fingers were stiff from holding the pen.

He got up and walked into the bedroom. The cardboard boxes had been opened, emptied, and piled by the door. An incredible amount of clothing was now spread out on the bed.

And still more clothing was hanging from doorknobs and the drawer pulls of the two chests of drawers.

Sessions, who was bent over the bed, pinning insignia to an elastique tunic, looked over his shoulder at Pickering.

"They took you at your word, Sir. There's everything here but mess dress."

"Is mess dress expensive?"

"Yes, Sir. Very expensive."

"Then it was a simple oversight which Brooks Brothers will remedy as soon as humanly possible.

The only thing we don't know is whether or not it will fit you, Sir."

"It should. I've been buying clothing there since I was in college."

Sessions handed him a shirt.

"There's only one way to know for sure, General."

Three minutes later, Flem Pickering was examining Brigadier General Fleming Pickering, USMCR, in the full-length mirror on the bathroom door.

I feel like one of the dummies in the Brooks Brothers windows.

I may be wearing this thing, but I am not, and there is no way I could be, a Marine general.

That Navy captain business was bad enough, but at least I have the right to wear those four gold stripes. I am an any-ocean, any-tonnage master mariner, entitled to wear the four stripes of a captain.

This is different.

"That fits perfectly," Sessions said. "Let's see about the cover.

He handed him a uniform cap. The entwined golden oak leaves decorating its brim-universally called "scrambled eggs"-identified the wearer as a general officer.

Pickering put it on and examined himself again.

The hat makes me look even more like a Brooks Brothers dummy.

"Looks fine, Sir," Sessions said.

"Looks fraudulent, Captain," Pickering said.

There was another knock at the door.

"Shall I get that, General?"

"Please," Pickering said. "Thank you."

He turned from the mirror and started gathering up the other uniforms on hangers and putting them into closets. Then he went back to the mirror and looked at himself again.

"Good afternoon, General," a strange voice said. "I'm Colonel Rickabee."

Pickering turned. A tall, thin, sharp-featured man was standing in the door to the bedroom. He was wearing a baggy, sweat-soaked seersucker suit and a battered straw snap-brim hat. In one hand he carried a well-stuffed briefcase identical to Sessions', and in the other he held a long, thin package wrapped in brown waterproof paper.

"I'm very happy to meet you, Colonel," Pickering said. "But I'm afraid I have to begin this conversation with the announcement that I feel like a fraud standing before you in a Marine general's uniform."

Rickabee met his eyes for a moment and then walked into the room. He put the briefcase on the floor and the long, thin package on the bed. He took a penknife from his pocket and slit the package open.

He pushed the paper away from a Springfield Model 1903.30-06 caliber rifle, picked it up, and handed it to Pickering.

"The General inadvertently left this behind when he checked out of the hospital, Sir. I took the liberty of having it sent here, Sir." Pickering took the rifle, and then (in Pavlovian fashion) worked the action to make sure it was unloaded. After that he raised his eyes to Rickabee.

"Thank you, Colonel," he said. "It means a good deal to me."

"I thought it would, General," Rickabee said. "That's almost certainly the only Springfield in the United States which has seen service on Guadalcanal." Pickering met his eyes again and after a moment said, "General Vandergrift told me to take it with me. When they ordered me off the island."

"Yes, Sir. So I understand. May I say something, General?" Pickering nodded.

"If General Vandergrift and Major Jack Stecker both think of you as a pretty good Marine, Sir, I don't think you should question their judgment." It was a long time before Pickering spoke. Finally he said, "Funny, Colonel, I have been led to believe-by the President, by the way-that you have an abrasive personality. That wasn't abrasive, that was more than gracious." Rickabee met his eyes for a moment and then changed the subject.

"I see the General has dealt with the uniform problem."

"Before I knew about the man at Quantico with the good prices. "

"Well, at least you're in the correct uniform for me to welcome you back into The Corps."

"Thank you," Pickering said. "I was just wondering what to do with my Navy uniforms. Send them home, I guess. Or find somebody who can use them."

"Thank you, Sir," Rickabee said. "We accept."

"You know someone who can use them?"

"Down the line, I'm sure, they can be put to good use," Rickabee said.

"I see," Pickering said, shaking his head. "OK. They're yours."

"Sessions has told the General, I hope, that we're setting up an office for him?" Pickering nodded.

"There has been a slight delay. The former occupant squealed like a stuck pig and complained to everybody he could think of," Rickabee said with obvious delight. "He lost his last appeal and has been ordered to clear out by noon tomorrow.

If the General has some reason to come into the office tomorrow, we will of course make room for him, but I would respectfully suggest that he wait one more day."

"Are you going to keep talking to me in the third person?"

"Not if the General does not wish me to."

"The General does not," Pickering said with a smile.

"Aye, aye, Sir."

"I thought that tomorrow I would go into Philadelphia to see Sergeant Moore. Is there any reason I can't do that?"

"You can go just about anywhere you want to, General," Rickabee said. He picked the briefcase up from the floor, unlocked it, opened it, and handed Pickering an envelope. "Your orders came in this morning, Sir."

Pickering opened the envelope.

The White House

Washington, D.C.

3 September 1942

Brigadier General Fleming W. Pickering, USMCR, Headquarters, USMC, will proceed by military and/or civilian rail, road, sea and air transportation (Priority AAAAA-1) to such points as he deems necessary in carrying out the mission assigned to him by the undersigned.

United States Armed Forces commands are directed to provide him with such support as he may request.

General Pickering is to be considered the personal representative of the undersigned.

General Pickering has unrestricted TOP SECRET security clearance. Any questions regarding his mission will be directed to the undersigned.

W. D. Leahy, Admiral, USN

Chief of Staff to the President

When Pickering finished reading the orders, Rickabee said, "They're much like your old orders, except that Leahy has signed these."

"It sounds as if we work for Leahy."

"Sometimes we do," Rickabee said matter-of-factly. "In any event, this should answer your question about whether or not you can go to Philadelphia."

"It's a personal thing. That boy worked for me. If I had done what I was supposed to do, he would never have been on Guadalcanal." Pickering saw in Rickabee's eyes a sign that he hadn't liked that statement.

"OK," he said. "Let's have it."

"Nothing, Sir."

"Rickabee, if we're going to work together, I'm going to have to know what you're thinking."

Rickabee paused long enough for Pickering to understand that he was debating answering the challenge.

"Would you mind changing the last part of what you said to read, `He would never have been on Guadalcanal, where he might have been captured and compromised MAGIC'?" Rickabee asked finally.

Pickering's face tightened. He was not used to having his mistakes pointed out to him. He felt Rickabee's eyes on him; they were wary and intent.

"Yes, I would," Pickering said, "but only because it reminds me of how incredibly stupid I can sometimes be. Still, consider it changed, Rickabee."

"I felt obliged to bring that up, Sir," Rickabee said. "And there is one other thing.

"Let's have it."

"Ed Banning tells me you have a somewhat cavalier attitude toward classified documents."

"He never said anything to me about that!" Pickering protested.

"He and Lieutenant Hon kept a close eye on you, Sir. And just to be doubly sure, he had your quarters kept under surveillance."

Jesus, he's not making this up.

"I didn't know that."

"He didn't want you to," Rickabee said. "But we're not going to be able to do that here."

"I'll be more careful."

"General, you are authorized an aide-de-camp and an orderly. With your permission I would like to charge them with the additional responsibility of making sure that nothing important gets misplaced."

"I feel like a backward child," Pickering said.

"I don't see Japanese lurking in the bushes," Rickabee said.

"Or, for that matter, Germans. J. Edgar Hoover is doing a good job with counter intelligence. But other agencies don't particularly like our little shop. They could do us a lot of damage, Sir, if they could show that our security isn't ironclad."

"Other agencies like who, for example?"

"All of them. Any of them. Maybe in particular the FBI, and Donovan's people, whatever they're calling themselves this week, and of course, ONI."-the Office of Naval Intelligence.

`In other words you're telling me the same thing is going on here that's going on in the Pacific? There are two wars? One against the Japanese and the other against ourselves?"

"Yes, Sir, I'm afraid it is."

Good Christ, I'm stupid. Why should I think things would be any different here? And he's right, of course. Bill Donovan would love nothing better than to run to Franklin Roosevelt with proof that I was endangering security, and/or behaving like a blathering idiot.

"If you feel it's necessary, Colonel, you can lock me in a sealed room at night."

"That won't be necessary, Sir. But I would like to be careful, by having your aide-"

"I don't suppose Lieutenant McCoy would be available for that, would he?"

"What I was thinking, Sir, was Sergeant Moore. We can commission him-he was in line for a commission before we sent him to Australia-and he's cleared for MAGIC."

"Yes, of course," Pickering said. "That's a good idea."

"And I'll work on the orderly/driver/clerk, whatever we finally call him. We've been recruiting people with the right backgrounds. There's three or four going through Parris Island right now, as a matter of fact."

"I leave myself in your hands, Rickabee," Pickering said.

"My orders to you are to tell me what I can do to make myself both useful and harmless." Rickabee looked into his eyes for a moment and then smiled.

"As far as useful, Sir-was that Feigenspan ale I saw in the cooler in the other room?"

(Three)

THE 21 CLUB

21 WEST 52ND STREET

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

5 SEPTEMBER 1942

Ernest J. Sage stepped out of a taxi and rather absently handed the driver a five-dollar bill.

"Keep it," he said.

Ernest Sage was forty-eight years old, superbly tailored, slightly built, and very intense. His hair was slicked back with Vitahair because he liked it that way, and not because it was the number-three product in gross sales of American Personal Pharmaceuticals, Inc., of which he was Chairman of the Board and President.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Sage," the 21 Club's doorman said.

After somewhat belatedly recognizing Sage, he rushed to the cab.

"Howareya?" Ernest Sage said, managing a two-second smile as he walked quickly across the sidewalk and down the shallow flight of stairs behind the wrought-iron grillwork.

Ernest Sage was late for an appointment. He disliked being late for any appointment.

The man inside the door was quicker to recognize him than the outside man had been. He had the door open and was smiling by the time Sage reached it.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Sage," he said, with what looked like a warm, welcoming smile.

Howareya?" Ernest Sage replied. "I'm late. Has anyone been asking for me?"

"No, Sir, Mr. Sage."

"I'll be in the bar."

"Yes, Sir, Mr. Sage. I'll take care of it." He made his way to the bar. At its far end was the man Ernest Sage was meeting. He was sitting on a barstool with his back against the wall... on a very special and particular barstool. This one was reserved by almost sacred custom for humorist Robert Benchley, or in his absence for another of a small group of 21 Club regulars-newspaper columnists, actors, producers, or a select few businessmen who'd earned the favor of the Kriendler family, the owners of 21.

The individual sitting there now was not famous or even well known. But he had obviously earned the approval of the Kriendler family. As evidence of that, a. smiling Al Kriendler was in the process of handing him a drink.

Sage remembered hearing that Bob Kriendler was about to go in The Marine Corps. Perhaps he was already in...

Does that explain why Al is personally handing him a drink? Or is he just showing his respect to a nice-looking kid in a Marine uniform?

The young man was wearing the summer uniform prescribed for first lieutenants of The United States Marine Corps-khaki shirt, trousers, and necktie with USMC tie clasp.

"Hello, Ken," Ernest Sage said, touching his back. "Sorry to I'm late.

The goddamned traffic is unbelievable."

"Hello, Mr. Sage," First Lieutenant Kenneth R. McCoy, USMCR, said. "No problem. I just got here."

"Oh, you know each other?" Al Kriendier said.

"For reasons that baffle me," Ernest said, "Ernie thinks the sun rises in the morning because Ken wants it to."

"Well, I would say Ernie has very good taste," Al Kriendler said.

The bartender, who was familiar with Ernest Sage's drinking habits, slid him a Manhattan with an extra shake of Angostura bitters.

Ernie Sage-properly Ernestine Sage-was Ernest Sage's only child, and Ernest Sage loved her very much. At the same time he was aware of the facts of growth and maturity. And so he had pondered the inevitability of her one day transferring her affections to a young man.

Though he'd dwelt at length on every possible Worst Case, he'd never dreamed that the reality would be as bad as it turned out. It was not that he didn't like Ken McCoy. Ken McCoy was beyond question a really fine young man.

Ernest Sage would have been happier, of course, if there had been some family in McCoy's background-some money, frankly-and if he had a little better education than Norristown, Pennsylvania's, high school offered. But such things weren't insurmountable, in his view. In fact, under other circumstances, he could have resigned himself to Ken McCoy.

Ernie could have done a hell of a lot worse.

But the circumstances were that the war was not even a year old, that he saw no end to it, that Ken McCoy was already wearing three Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for valor in combat, and that his nickname in the Marines was "Killer." Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars and nicknames weren't in themselves hugely significant. But in Ernest Sage's mind, they added up to a significant conclusion: The chances of Ken coming through the war alive and intact ranged from slim to none.

In Worst Possible Case Number Sixty-six, for instance, Ken came home missing a leg, or blind. And Ernie was condemned to a life of caring for a cripple.

If that makes me a heartless prick, so what? I'm worried about the life my daughter will have. What's wrong with that?

The funny thing was that Ken McCoy not only understood Sage's concerns but agreed with them. And yet Sage almost had a harder time dealing with that than if Ken had run off with her to a justice of the peace the day after he met her.

"I'm not going to marry her, Mr. Sage," Ken had told him.

Not while the war is on. I don't want to leave her a widow." It was another reason he genuinely liked Ken McCoy.

The real problem, in fact, wasn't McCoy, it was Ernie. She had reduced the situation to basics. She was a woman in love.

What women in love do is stick to their man and have babies.

She didn't even much give a damn whether she was married to Ken or not-she wanted his baby.

"Look, Daddy," she had told him over lunch in the Executive Dining Room of the American Personal Pharmaceuticals Building. "If Ken does get killed, I would at least have our baby.... And it's not as if the baby and I would wind up on charity." Ernest Sage had clear and definite ideas about moral values and a good moral upbringing. He had, for example, taught Sunday School classes for six goddamned years in order to set a proper example for his daughter. So it wasn't at all easy for him to go to her lover to discuss her intention to become pregnant by him. But Ernest Sage did that. He had to.

And again Ken McCoy surprised him... and made him uneasy-not because Ken was going to do his daughter wrong (he wasn't), but because he kept acting just exactly the way Ernest Sage himself would have acted if he had been in the boy's shoes.

"Yeah, I know she wants a kid," Ken said. "But no way.

That'd be a rotten thing to do to her."

That was why Ernest Sage couldn't help liking and admiring Ken McCoy. Ken was very much like himself-a decent man with enough intelligence to see things the way they were, not through rose-colored glasses.

Goddamn this war, anyway!

"Miss Sage is here, Mr. Sage," one of the headwaiters said softly in his ear. "Your regular table be all right, Sir?" Women were not welcome at the bar. Since they weren't actually prohibited, however, Ernie felt free to sit there, to hell with what people think. But whenever he could, her father tried to make her sit at a table.

"Yeah, fine," Sage said, looking toward the entrance for his daughter.

She was tall and healthy looking, slender but not

thin; her black hair was cut in a pageboy. She wore a simple skirt and blouse, with a strand of pearls that had belonged to her maternal grandmother.

He waved. She returned it, but there was a look of annoyance on her face when she saw the headwaiter rushing to show her to a table.

He noticed, too, that male eyes throughout the room followed her.

She stood by the table until they joined her.

"Hi, baby," Ken McCoy said.

"Is that the best you can do?" Ernie Sage asked.

"What?"

She grabbed his neatly tied necktie, pulled him to her, and kissed him on the mouth.

"Jesus Christ," he said, actually blushing when he finally got free..

"Hi, Daddy," Ernie said, smiling at him and sitting down.

When she smiled at him, he could not be angry with her.

"What may I get you, Miss Sage?" a waiter asked.

"What's good enough for The Marine Corps is good enough for me."

"Bring us all one," Ernest Sage said.

"Thank you for asking how my day was," Ernie said. "My day was fine. I was told my copy for Toothhold was "really sexy." I wonder what that man does behind his bedroom door if he thinks adhesive for false teeth is sexy?"

"My God, kitten!" Ernest Sage said.

Ken McCoy laughed. "Don't knock it until you try it."

"OK, darling, I'll bring some home. There's a case of it on my filing cabinet." Ernie McCoy was a senior copywriter at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. Ernest Sage took a great deal of pride in knowing that she had the job on her own merits and not because American Personal Pharmaceuticals billed an annual $12.1 million at JWT.

"I learned something interesting today," Ernest Sage said, which I saved until we could all be together."

"What's that?" Ernie asked.

"There was a story in the Times that Fleming Pickering has gone into The Marines. As a general."

"I thought he was a captain in the Navy," Ernie said, looking at McCoy for an explanation.

"I know," McCoy said. "He called me today."

"I'll be goddamned, Ernest Sage thought. He didn't call me. I haven't heard from the sonofabitch since the war started, and we have been friends since before our kids were born. And if he called Ken McCoy, that means he called him at Ernie's apartment, which means he knows they're living together. Well, why the hell should that surprise me? Flem arranged for that boat they were shacked up in at the San Diego Yacht Club. Goddamn him for that, too.

It had been a longtime, pleasant, and not entirely unreasonable fantasy on the part of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Sage and Captain and Mrs. Fleming Pickering (the ladies had been roommates at college) that one day Ernestine Sage and Malcolm S. Pickering would find themselves impaled on Cupid's arrow, marry, and make them all happy grandparents.

Instead, Pick Pickering joined the Marines, made a buddy out of Ken McCoy when they were in Officer Candidate School, and took him to New York on a short leave. Pick moved into one of the suites in the Foster Park and passed word around New York that he was in town and having a nonstop party over the weekend. Ernie Sage went to the party and bumped into Ken McCoy. End of longtime, pleasant, and not entirely unreasonable fantasy. Start of unending nightmare. As soon as Ernie saw Ken, she knew he was the man in her life. With that as a given, there was absolutely no reason not to go to bed with him four hours after they met.

"I waited, Daddy," Ernie said. "Until I was sure. I'm sure.

If it wasn't for my goddamned father, Ernest Sage often thought, I could at least threaten to cut her off without a dime.

When Ernie was four, Grandfather Sage set up a trust fund for the adorable little tyke, funding it with 5 percent of his shares (giving her 2.5 percent of the total) of American Personal Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Control of this trust was to be passed to her on her graduation from college, her marriage, or on attaining her twenty-fifth year, whichever occurred first.

Ernie had graduated Summa Cum Laude from college at twenty.

"Oh?" Ernest Sage asked.

"What did he want?"

"Well... I'm sorry about this. It's orders. I can't go to Bernardsville with you this weekend."

"Why not?"

"I've got to go to Philadelphia and then to Parris Island."

"You're on leave, hospital recuperative leave," Ernie said angrily.

"You're supposed to have thirty days!"

"Come on, baby, I was only dinged," McCoy said.

Yeah, Ernest Sage thought, and if whatever it was that dinged you in the forehead had dinged you an inch deeper, you'd be dead They don't hand out Purple Hearts for dings.

"What are you going to do in Philadelphia?" Ernie asked.

She doesn't argue with him. She'll argue with her mother and me till the cows come home. He tells her something and that's it.

"A guy's in the hospital there I have to see," McCoy began, then interrupted himself. "You know him, baby, as a matter of fact. Remember that kid who we put up on the boat? Moore?

On his way to Australia?"

"Yes," Ernie said, remembering. "What's he doing in Philadelphia? In the hospital in Philadelphia?"

"He got hurt on Guadalcanal," McCoy said.

"Oh, God!" Ernie said. "Was he badly hurt?"

"Bad enough to get sent home."

"I thought he was going to Australia!" Ernie said, making it an accusation.

"Until this morning I thought he was in Australia," McCoy said.

"Why are they sending you to see him?"

"They're going to commission him," McCoy said. "Pickering was going there to swear him in, but it turns out he has an infection and they won't let him travel."

"An infection?" Ernest Sage asked.

McCoy nodded. "He says it's not serious, but-"

"Patricia told your mother," Sage said to Ernie, "that Flem just walked out of the hospital in California. Before he was discharged, I mean. He's a damned fool."

"Daddy!"

"Well, he is," Sage insisted, and then thought of something else. "What do you have to do with him, Ken?"

"He's now my boss," Ken said.

"I still don't understand why you have to go to Philadelphia," Ernie said.

"I told you. Moore's getting commissioned. I'm going to swear him in, take care of the paperwork."

"I want to go," Ernie said.

McCoy considered that a moment.

"If he's in the hospital, I want to see him," Ernie went on.

"From Philadelphia, I'm going to Parris Island," McCoy said.

"For how long?"

"Couple of days. I'm driving."

"Any reason I can't go?"

"Yes, there is."

"Well, I can at least go to Philadelphia."

"All I'm going to do is swear him in, handle the paperwork, and then head for Parris Island."

"Today's Friday. Tomorrow's Saturday. We could have all day in Philadelphia, and then you could drive to Parris Island on Sunday," Ernie said reasonably.

He shrugged, giving in.

"Your mother will be disappointed," Ernest Sage said. "And where would you stay in Philadelphia?"

"I don't know. The Warwick, the Bellvue-Stratford..

"You're not married, you can't stay in a hotel together," Ernest Sage blurted.

"Talk to Ken about us not being married," Ernie said. "I'm not the one being difficult on that subject."

"Jesus, baby! We've been over that already!"

"What we're going to do, Daddy, is spend the night in Bernardsville and drive to Philadelphia in the morning. Why don't you call Mother and ask her to meet us somewhere for dinner?

The Brook, maybe, or Baltusrol?" There is absolutely nothing I can do but smile and agree, Ernest Sage decided. If I raise any further objections, she won't go to Bernardsville at all.

"Baltusrol," he said. "They do a very nice English grill on Friday nights."

He raised his hand, caught the headwaiter's attention, and put his balled fist to his ear, miming his need for a telephone.

As he waited for the telephone, he had a pleasant thought: What did he say? That Fleming Pickering is now his boss? Jesus, maybe they'll give him a desk job. But an unpleasant thought immediately replaced it: Bullshit! Flem Pickering was supposed to be working for the Secretary of the Navy, which any reasonable person would think meant shuffling paper in Washington, and the next thing we hear is that he got all shot up and earned the Silver Star, taking command of some goddamn destroyer when the captain was killed.

He looked at his daughter. She was feeding Ken McCoy a bacon-wrapped oyster. If he'd been an angel, her look couldn't have been more transfixed.

All I want for you, kitten, is your happiness.

"Elaine," he said a minute later to the telephone, "we're in Jack and Charley's, and what Ernie wants us to do is have supper at Baltusrol.

"Yes, I know you've made plans for the weekend, but something has come up.

"Elaine, for Christ's sake, just get in the goddamn car and go to Baltusrol. We'll see you there in an hour."

"You want an oyster, Daddy?" `Yes, thank you, kitten."

Chapter Six

[One]

HENDERSON FIELD

GUADALCANAL, SOLOMON ISLANDS

1545 HOURS 5 SEPTEMBER 1942

Both Gunnery Sergeant Ernest W. Zimmerman and Sergeant Thomas McCoy were considerably relieved when the R4D made contact again with the earth's surface. It was Gunny Zimmerman's third and Sergeant McCoy's second flight in a heavier-than-air vehicle. Though these previous experiences had a happy outcome (they survived them), that success did not relieve their current anxieties. In fact, if they'd had a say in the matter, both would have traveled by ship from Hawaii to wherever The Corps was sending them.

They were not given a choice. Their orders directed them to proceed by the most expeditious means, including air; and a AAA priority had been authorized.

They flew from Pearl Harbor to Espiritu Santo aboard a Martin PBM-3R Mariner, the unarmed transport version of the amphibious, twin-engine patrol bomber. Flight in the Mariner was bad enough, both of them privately considered during long flight from Pearl, but if something went wrong with an amphibian like that-should the engines stop, for example-at least it could land on the water and float around until somebody came to help them.

The flight from Espiritu Santo in the R4D was something else. It was a land plane. If they went down in the ocean it would sink, very likely before they could inflate the rubber rafts crated near the rear door.

During the flight they were warm, though not uncomfortably so. But by the time the R4D completed its landing roll and taxied to the parking ramp, they were covered with sweat, and wet patches were under their arms and down the backs of their utility jackets.

The crew chief came down the fuselage past the crates of supplies lashed to the floor and the bags of mail scattered around, and pushed open the door.

By the time Zimmerman and McCoy stood up, a truck was backed up to the door. That meant they had to climb onto the bed of the truck before they could get to the ground. The Marine labor detail on the truck bed unloading the cargo were mostly bare-chested, wearing only utility trousers and boondockers. They were tanned and sweaty.

The sergeant in charge of the detail told Zimmerman where he could find the office of MAG-21. They put their seabags onto their shoulders and started to walk across the field.

The office turned out to be two connected eight-man squad tents, with their sides rolled up. The tents were surrounded by a wall of sandbags.

A corporal sat on a folding chair at a folding desk, pecking away with two fingers on a Royal portable typewriter. When Zimmerman walked into the tent, he saw another kid, bare chested, asleep on a cot.

"Can I help you, Gunny?" the corporal asked.

`Reporting in," Zimmerman said, and handed over their orders. The corporal read the orders and then looked at Zimmerman.

"Sergeant Oblensky around?" Zimmerman asked.

The corporal ignored him.

"Lieutenant?" the corporal called.

The blond-headed kid on the cot raised himself on his elbows, shook his head, and then looked around the tent, finally sing his eyes on Zimmerman.

"Do something for you, Gunny?" he asked.

Jesus, he's an officer. He don't look old enough to have hair on his balls.

"Zimmerman, Sir. Gunnery Sergeant Ernest W. Reporting in with one man."

"My name is Dunn," the kid said. "I'm the OD. Welcome aboard. Now, where the hell did you come from?" He looked at the corporal. "Those the orders?"

"Yes, Sir," the corporal said and handed them to him.

He read them and then looked up. "MacNeil," he asked, where's the skipper?"

"On the flight line, Sir. Him and the exec, both."

"See if you can find him," Dunn ordered. "Or the exec. One or the other."

"Aye, aye, Sir."

"I don't understand your orders," Dunn said to Zimmerman. "A transfer from the 2nd Raider Battalion to an air group seems odd, even in The Marine Corps."

"Yes, Sir," Zimmerman agreed.

Lieutenant Colonel Clyde W. Dawkins, a tall, thin, sharp featured man in his thirties, appeared a few minutes later, trailed by Captain Charles M. Galloway. Both were wearing sweat-darkened cotton flying suits. Dawkins also wore a fore-and-aft cap and a Smith and Wesson.38 Special revolver in a shoulder holster, while Galloway had on a utility cap that looked three sizes too small for him, and a.45 Colt automatic hung from a web pistol belt.

Zimmerman and McCoy popped to attention. Dawkins looked at them and smiled.

Stand at ease, Gunny," he said, and then asked Dunn.

"Where's MacNeil?"

""I sent him to look for you, Sir. These two just reported in." He handed Dawkins the orders.

Dawkins read them and made very much the same observation Dunn had: "I don't understand this. A transfer from the 2nd Raider Battalion to the 21st MAG?" He handed the orders to Galloway and looked quizzically at Zimmerman.

"It wasn't my idea, Colonel," Sergeant McCoy volunteered.

"I didn't ask to come to no fucking air group!"

"Shut your mouth!" Zimmerman said as Galloway opened his mouth to offer a similar suggestion.

Colonel Dawkins coughed.

"We've met, haven't we, Gunny?" Galloway said to Zimmerman.

"Yes, Sir. I went down to fix your Brownings when you was at Ewa."

"I thought that was you," Galloway said. "Oblensky at work, Colonel."

"Oh?"

"The gunny was good enough, in exchange for a portable generator, to make our Brownings work. I remember Oblensky saying at the time, `We need him more than the Raiders do."' "Oh," Dawkins said. "And was Sergeant Oblensky right, would you say, Captain Galloway?"

"I think Sergeant Oblensky has managed to convince somebody that we need him, both of them, more than the Raiders, Sir."

"Persuasive fellow, Sergeant Oblensky," Dawkins said. "I wondered what happened to that generator. One moment it was there, and the next, it had vanished into thin air."

"On the other hand, Colonel, the gunny here, and his right hand man, I guess, did make those machine guns work."

"That's a Jesuitical argument, Captain, that the end justifies the means," Dawkins said, trying without much success to keep a smile off his face. He turned to Sergeant McCoy. "Did I hear you say, Sergeant, that if things were left up to you, you would not be here in the fucking air group?" `No, Sir. I mean, I didn't ask for this, Sir." Well, we certainly don't want anyone in our fucking air group who doesn't want to be in our fucking air group, do we, Captain Galloway?"

"No, Sir."

"Since Sergeant Oblensky, Captain Galloway, is your man, I will leave the resolution of this situation in your very capable hands."

"Aye, aye, Sir," Galloway said.

"Might I suggest, however, that since the sergeant doesn't want to be in our fucking air group, he might be happier in the 1st Raider Battalion. Only the other day, Colonel Edson happened to mention in passing that he had certain personnel problems."

"That thought ran through my mind, Sir," Captain Galloway said.

"How about that, Sergeant?" Colonel Dawkins asked solicitously. "How you would like to go to the Raider Battalion here on Guadalcanal? The Fucking First, as they are fondly known."

"I'd like that fine, Sir," Sergeant McCoy said happily. "I'm a fucking Raider." Colonel Dawkins was suddenly struck with another coughing fit. Motioning for Lieutenant Dunn to follow him, he quickly left the tent; and a moment later they were followed by Captain Galloway, similarly afflicted.

Colonel Dawkins was first to regain control.

"'I didn't ask to come to no fucking air group,"' he accurately mimicked Sergeant McCoy's indignant tone, "'I'm a fucking Raider."' That triggered additional laughter. Then there was just time for the three officers to hear, inside the tent, Sergeant Zimmerman's angry voice... "When I tell you to shut your fucking mouth, asshole, you shut your fucking mouth."... when another sound, the growling of a siren, filled the air.

All three of them were still smiling, however, when they ran to the revetments and strapped themselves into their Wildcats.

[Two]

ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY COASTWATCHER ESTABLISHMENT

TOWNSVILLE, QUEENSLAND

6 SEPTEMBER 1942 Staff

Sergeant Allan Richardson, USMC, senior staff noncommissioned officer of USMC Special Detachment 14, did not at first recognize the single deplaning passenger of the U.S. Navy R4D as a field grade officer of the USMC.

Although Sergeant Richardson was himself grossly out of the prescribed uniform-he was wearing khaki trousers, an open-necked woolen shirt, a Royal Australian Navy duffel coat, and a battered USMC campaign hat-he had been conditioned by nine years in the prewar Corps to expect Marine officers, especially field-grade Marine officers, to look like officers.

The character who stepped off the airplane was wearing soiled and torn utilities, boondockers, no cover, and he was carrying what looked to Richardson's experienced eye like a U.S. Navy Medical Corps insulated container for fresh human blood. A web belt hung cowboy-style around his waist, and two ammunition pouches and a.45 in a leather holster were suspended from it.

Richardson stared at the insulated containers until he was positive-red crosses in white squares were still visible under a thin coat of green paint-that the containers had almost certainly been stolen. By then the character was almost at Richardson's Studebaker President automobile. When Richardson looked at him, he saw for the first time that not only was USMC stenciled on the breast of the filthy utilities, but that a major's golden oakleaf was pinned to each collar point.

At that point Richardson did what all his time in the prewar Corps had conditioned him to do: He quickly rose from behind the wheel, came to attention, and saluted crisply.

"Good afternoon, Sir!"

"Thank Christ, a Marine," Major Jake Dillon, USMCR said with a vague gesture in the direction of his forehead that could only kindly be called a return of Sergeant Richardson's salute.

Dillon, a muscular, trim, tanned man in his middle thirties, opened the rear door of the Studebaker, carefully placed the ex-fresh human blood container on the seat, and closed the door.

"How may I help the Major, Sir?" Richardson asked.

"I'm here to see Major Banning," Dillon said as he walked around to the passenger side of the car and got in.

"Who, Sir?" Richardson had heard Dillon clearly. Indeed, Major Ed Banning himself was the one who sent him to the airport when they heard the R4D overhead. But as a general operating principle, the personnel of USMC Special Detachment 14 denied any knowledge of the detachment or its personnel.

"It's all right, Sergeant. My name is Dillon. I'm a friend of Major Banning's." When he detected a certain hesitancy on Sergeant Richardson's part, Dillon added: "For Christ's sake, do I look like a Japanese spy?"

"No, Sir," Richardson said, chuckling. "And you don't look like a candy-ass from MacArthur's headquarters, either. The Major really hates it when they show up here." Dillon smiled.

"I'll bet," he said. "I'll also bet that you would be able to put your hands on a cold beer to save the life of an old China Marine, wouldn't you?"

"I don't have any with me in the car, Major, but I'll drive like hell to where you can get one."

"Bless you, my son," Dillon said, making the sign of the cross.

"That wasn't the regular courier plane, was it?" Richardson asked a minute or so later as he headed for the Coastwatcher Establishment. But it was really a statement rather than a question.

No, that was a medical evacuation plane from Guadalcanal', headed for Melbourne. I asked them to drop me off."

"No cold beer on Guadalcanal?"

"No cold beer, and not much of anything else, either," Dillon said. "The goddamn Navy sailed off with most of our rations still on the transports. We've been living on what we took away from the Japs."

"Yeah, we heard about that," Richardson said.

When Major Edward F. Banning, USMC, Commanding Officer of USMC Special Detachment 14, glanced into the unit's combined mess hall and club, he saw Major Dillon sprawled in a chair at the table reserved for the unit's half dozen officers. He was working on his second bottle of beer.

Sergeant Richardson, smiling, holding a bottle of beer, was leaning against the wall.

When Banning walked into the room, Richardson pushed himself off the wall and looked a little uncomfortable.

"I'm afraid to ask what you've got in the blood container, Jake," Banning said.

"There was film in it," Dillon replied. "Richardson put it in your refrigerator for me."

"What kind of film?"

"Still and 16mm. Eyemo."

"That's not what I meant."

"Of heroic Marines battling the evil forces of the Empire of Japan. With a cast of thousands. Produced and directed by yours truly. Being rushed to your neighborhood newsreel theater. "

"You may find it hard to believe, looking at him, Sergeant

Richardson," Banning said, "but this scruffy, unwashed, unshaven officer was once famous for being the best-turned-out Marine sergeant in the Fourth Marines."

"Don't give me a hard time, Banning," Dillon said.

"We was just talking about the Fourth, Sir," Richardson said. "We know people, but we wasn't there at the same time."

"How are you, Jake?" Banning asked, walking to him and shaking hands.

"You look like hell."

"I was hungry, dirty, and thirsty. Now I'm just hungry and dirty, thanks to Sergeant Richardson."

"Well, I'll feed you, but I won't give you a bath."

"You got something I can wear until I get to Melbourne? My stuff is there."

"Sure. Utilities? Or something fancier?"

"Utilities would be fine," Dillon said.

"See what you can do, Richardson, will you?" Banning ordered. "Major Dillon will be staying in my quarters."

"Aye, aye, Sir," Richardson said. "You want to give me that.45, Major, I'll get it cleaned for you." Dillon hesitated, then stood up and unfastened his pistol belt.

"Bless you again, my son," he said.

"Anytime, Major," Sergeant Richardson said with a smile and then left.

Dillon looked at Banning.

"I think I better go have that bath now, while I'm still on my feet."

"You sick, Jake, or just tired?"

"I hope to Christ I'm just tired. What you can catch on that fucking island starts with crabs and lice and gets worse.

They've got bugs nobody ever heard of, not to mention malaria."

"If you want a bath, " Banning said, as he led Dillon, still clutching his beer bottle, from the mess hall, "I'll ask Feldt. All I have is a shower."

"Shower's fine. How is Commander Charming?"

"He might even be glad to see you, as a matter of fact," Banning said. "You didn't show up here in a dress uniform, taking notes, and telling him how to run things."

"Speak of the devil," Dillon said as he saw Commander Feldt coming down the corridor. He raised his voice slightly.

"Well, there's the pride of the Royal Australian Navy."

"Hello, Dillon," Feldt said, offering his hand. There was even the suggestion of a smile on his face. "How are you"" It was not the reception Dillon expected. He wouldn't have been surprised if Feldt completely ignored him, and even less surprised if Feldt was grossly insulting and colorfully profane.

"Can't complain," Dillon said.

"You look like something the sodding cat dragged in." Commander Feldt then disappeared.

Three minutes later, in Banning's room, he surprised Dillon again. The shower curtain parted and a hand holding a bottle of scotch appeared.

Have a taste of this, Dillon," Feldt said. "It might not kill the sodding worms, but it'll give them a sodding headache."

"Bless you, my son," Dillon said.

"Sod you, Dillon," Feldt said, but there was unmistakable friendliness and warmth in his voice.

When Dillon came out of the shower, Feldt was sprawled on Banning's bed, holding the bottle of scotch on his stomach.

Banning was sitting on his desk.

"So how are things on Guadalcanal?" Feldt asked.

I am probably, Dillon realized, the first man he-or Banning, for that matter-has talked to who has been on the island.

"What I really can't figure is why the Japs haven't gotten their act together and thrown us off," Dillon said.

Feldt grunted.

"Are those stories true about the Navy sailing away with the heavy artillery, et cetera, or are you sodding Marines just crying in your sodding beer again?".

"They're true," Dillon said. He walked naked to the bed, took the bottle from Feldt, and drank a swallow from the neck.

"If it wasn't for the food the Japs left behind, the First Marine Division would be starving. And if it wasn't for the engineer equipment the Japs left behind, Henderson Field simply wouldn't exist. The fucking Navy sailed off with almost all of our engineer equipment still aboard the transports." Feldt looked at him a moment and then swung his feet off the bed.

"Cover your sodding ugly nakedness, Dillon," he said. "I asked one of the lads to fix you a steak."

"Thank you," Dillon said.

"Just for the record, you have the ugliest, not to mention the smallest-I will not dignify it by calling it a `penis'-pisser I have ever seen on a full-grown man."

"Sod you, Eric," Dillon said.

But for some inexplicable reason, I am glad to see you.

"What are you doing here, anyway?"

"Flacking," Dillon said as he pulled an undershirt over his head.

"What in the sweet name of Jesus is `flacking'?"

"I am a flack," Dillon replied. "What flacks do is `flack,' hence `flacking."

"What is this demented sodding compatriot of yours rambling about, Banning."

"I'm a press agent, Eric," Dillon said. "My contribution to the war effort will be to encourage red-blooded American youth to rush to the Marine recruiter and shame their families, friends, and neighbors into buying war bonds. That's what flacks do."

"I don't think he's trying to pull my sodding leg, Banning, but I haven't the faintest sodding idea what he's talking about."

"Neither do I," Banning said.

"I'm on my way home with six wounded heroes, two of whom I have yet to cast," Dillon explained as he pulled utility trousers on. "Said wounded heroes will be put on display all over America, with a suitable background of flags and stirring patriotic airs."

"You don't sound very enthusiastic about it, Jake," Banning said.

"I almost got out of it," Dillon said. "I almost had Vandergrift in a corner." Major General Alexander Archer Vandergrift, USMC, was Commanding General, First Marine Division.

"You almost had Vandergrift in a corner?" Banning asked incredulously.

"I went and asked him if I could have a company," Dillon replied and then stopped. The alcohol is getting to me, he thought. I'm running off at the mouth.

"And?" Banning pursued.

"He said, `Thanks very much, but captains command companies and you're a major." And I said, `I would be happy to take a bust to captain, or for that matter back to the ranks." And?" He said he would think about it, and I really think he did.

But then we got a fucking radio from Headquarters, USMC.

The Assistant Commandant is personally interested in this fucking wounded-hero war bond tour, it seems, and he wanted to know what was holding it up. And that blew me out of the fucking water."

"It's important, Jake," Banning said, more because he felt sorry for Dillon than because he believed in the importance of war bond tours.

"Bullshit," Dillon said. "They have civilians in uniform who could do as well as I can. I'm a Marine. Or I like to think I am."

"Yours not to reason why, old sod," Feldt said, "yours but to ride into the sodding valley of the pracks."

"Flacks," Dillon corrected him automatically.

"Flacks, pracks, flicks, pricks, whatever," Feldt said cheerfully. "You about ready to eat?"

"I'm a prick of a flack, who used to be a flack for the flicks," Dillon heard himself say.

Jesus, I'm drunk!

"Actually, old sod, I would say you're a prickless prack," Feldt said. And then he laughed. It was the first time Dillon could remember hearing him laugh.

The steak was not a New York Strip, charred on the outside and pink in the middle. It was thin, fried to death, and (to put a good face on it) chewy. But it covered the plate.

And it was the first fresh meat Jake had in his mouth for six weeks. He ate all of it with relish.

"Jesus, that was good!"

"Another, old sod?" Feldt asked.

"No, thanks."

"You haven't told us what you're doing here, Jake," Banning said.

"Well, I'm on my way home. I thought maybe you'd want me to call your wife-" Dillon stopped abruptly.

Too late, Dillon remembered that Mrs. Edward F. Banning did not get out of Shanghai before the Japanese came. She was a White Russian refugee whom Banning had married just before the Fourth Marines were transferred from Shanghai to the Philippines.

You're an asshole, Dillon, and don't blame it on the booze.

"-Shit! Ed, I'm sorry!" he went on, regret in his voice. "That just slipped out."

"Forget it," Banning said evenly.

"Or get you something in the States," Dillon went on somewhat lamely.

"Send us Pickering back," Feldt said. "If you want to do something useful."

"Amen," Banning said, as if anxious to get off the subject of Mrs. Edward F. Banning. "The minute he left, the assholes in MacArthur's headquarters held a party, and then they started working on us."

"That figures," Dillon said. "I'll make a point to see him, talk to him."

"I don't think it will do any good," Banning said.

"I don't know. It sodding well can't do any sodding harm," Feldt said. "That would be a service, old sod."

"Consider it done," Dillon said. "He still works for Frank Knox. Hot radios from the Secretary of the Navy often work miracles. Is there anything in particular?"

"Ask him to get that sodding asshole Willoughby off our back," Feldt said.

Newly promoted Brigadier General Charles A. Willoughby, USA, was MacArthur's intelligence officer. He was one of the "Bataan Gang," i.e., the men who escaped by PT Boat with MacArthur from the Philippines.

"Since he is the theater intelligence officer," Banning said, "Willoughby feels that all intelligence activities should come under him. In his shoes I would probably feel the same way.

But it really isn't Willoughby who's the problem so much as the people he has working for him."

"Willoughby," Feldt insisted, "is a sodding asshole, and so are the people working for him."

"They want us to route our intelligence through SWPOA," Banning said. (MacArthur's official title was Supreme Commander, South West Pacific Ocean Areas.) "So Willoughby can look important," Feldt said.

`Do you?" `Yes and no," Banning said. "When possible, the Coast watchers communicate with CINCPAC Radio directly. We monitor everything, of course. So if our people can't get through to them, we relay to CINCPAC. If that happens, we send a copy to SWPOA." (CINCPAC: Commander in Chief, Pacific, the Navy's headquarters at Pearl Harbor.) "Willoughby wants our people to communicate with SWPOA, and he'll pass it on to CINCPAC," Feldt said. "We have been ignoring the asshole, of course."

"So far successfully," Banning said. "But, oh how we miss Captain Pickering. He could get Willoughby off our back."

"Speaking of `our people,"' Dillon said, remembering the two boys on Buka. It was one thing, he thought, to have your ass in the line of fire in a line company on Guadalcanal-having your ass in the line of fire was what being a Marine was really all about-and something entirely different to be one of two Marines on an enemy-held island with no chance of being relieved.

"Good lads," Feldt said. "Every time I want to say something unpleasant about you sodding Marines, I remind myself there is an exception to the rule."

"So far they're all right, Jake," Banning said. "All right being defined as the Japs haven't caught them yet. Buka, right now, is probably the most important station."

"How are they?" Dillon asked. When neither Feldt nor Banning immediately replied, he went on: "I'm headed for the Fourth General Hospital. Barbara's there. She'll ask me about Joe."

"Lie to her," Feldt said. "That would be kindest." Lieutenant (J.G.)

Barbara T. Cotter, NNCR, was engaged to First Lieutenant Joseph L.

Howard, USMCR, who Was now on Buka with Sergeant Steven M. Koffler.

"Why are you going to the Fourth General?" Banning asked.

"I have four wounded heroes; I need two more. I'm going to hold an audition at the hospital to fill the cast. Don't change the subject. Tell me about Joe and Koffler. I don't want to lie to Barbara."

"They are on the edge of starvation," Feldt said. "They are almost certainly infested with a wide variety of intestinal parasites. The odds are ten to one they have malaria, and probably two or three other tropical diseases. They have no medicine.

For that matter they don't even have salt. They are already two weeks past the last date they could possibly be expected to escape detection by the Japanese."

"Jesus!" Dillon said.

"Tell Barbara that if you like," Feldt said in a level voice.

"What about getting them out?"

"Out of the sodding question, old sod," Feldt said.

"Well, what the hell are you going to do when they are caught?" Dillon asked angrily. "You just said-Banning just said-that Buka is, right now, the most important station."

"When Buka goes down, Jake," Banning said, "we will start parachuting in replacement teams. The moment we're sure it's down, we start dropping people. Giving Willoughby his due, he has promised us a B-17 within two hours when we ask for one."

"A B-17? Why a B-17?"

"Because when we jumped Joe and Koffler in there-Christ, two Jap fighter bases are on Buka-we used an unarmed transport. It was shot down. Fortunately, after Joe and Koffler jumped.

"And nothing can be done?"

"I don't know. We haven't given it much thought," Feldt said, thickly sarcastic. "But perhaps someone of your vast expertise in these areas has a solution we haven't been able to come up, with ourselves."

"Eric, I'm sorry you took that the wrong way," Dillon said.

Feldt didn't reply; but a moment later he stood up and leaned over to refresh Dillon's glass of scotch.

"What makes you think you ran get a replacement team on the ground?"

Dillon asked after a long silence.

"The operative word is `teams,' plural," Banning replied.

"We have six, ready to go. We will jump them in one at a time until one becomes operational. And then we'll have other teams standing by to go in when the operating team goes down."

"Jesus Christ!" Dillon said.

"If we're not able to inform CINCPAC and Guadalcanal when the Japanese bombers take off from Rabaul and the bases near it, our fighters on Henderson Field and on carriers will not be in the air in time to deflect them. That would see a lot of dead Marines," Banning said. "Viewed professionally, the mathematics make sense. It is better to suffer a couple of dozen losses to save a couple of hundred, a couple of thousand, lives.

The only trouble is that I-Eric and I-know the kids whose lives we're going to expend for the common good. That makes it a little difficult, personally." Dillon raised his eyes to Banning's.

"So tell Barbara the truth, Jake. Tell her that we continue to hear from Joe at least once a day, and that so far as we know he's all right."

"Speaking of the truth, old sod," Feldt said, "Banning told me a wild tale. He claims you've dipped that miniature wick of yours into most of the famous honey pots in Hollywood." The subject of Buka was closed, and Jake knew that he could not reopen it.

"I cannot tell a lie, Commander Feldt," Dillon said. "The story's true."

[Three]

UNITED STATES NAVAL HOSPITAL

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

0930 HOURS 6 SEPTEMBER 1942

"May I help you, Lieutenant?" Lieutenant (J.G.) Joanne McConnell, NNC, asked.

"We're looking for Sergeant Moore, John M.," McCoy said.

"They told us he was on this ward."

"He is, but-this isn't my idea-the rule is no visitors on the ward before noon."

"This is official business," McCoy said.

"Nice try," Lieutenant McConnell said. "But I don't think Commander Jensen would buy it. Maybe you, but not the lady.

Commander Jensen runs a tight ship."

"Who's he?"

"She. She's supervisory nurse in this building." McCoy took a wallet-sized leather folder from his pocket, opened it, and held it out for Lieutenant McConnell to see.

It held a badge that incorporated the seal of the Department of the Navy, an identification card with McCoy's picture on it, and the statement that the bearer was a Special Agent of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

"If the Commander shows up, you can tell her I showed you that and asked you where I can find Sergeant Moore, and that you told me."

"I never saw one of those before," Lieutenant McConnell said. "I hope he's not in some kind of trouble?"

"No. As a matter of fact, I'm about to make him an officer and a gentleman."

"He's a really nice kid," the nurse said.

"What shape is he in?"

"He still has to walk with a cane, but he's going to be all right."

"Why isn't he on recuperative leave?"

"He is. He was gone for a couple of days, but then he came back. He has family in Philadelphia, but-I didn't ask why he came back."

"Where is he?"

"Six-sixteen, second door from the end of the corridor on the left." "Is he in there alone?"

"The scuttlebutt is that there was a telephone call from some captain in the office of the Secretary of the Navy ordering him a private room. It is one of the reasons he is not one of Commander Jensen's favorite people."

"Real chickenshit bitch, huh?" McCoy said.

"Ken!" Ernie Sage said.

"You said that, Lieutenant," Lieutenant McConnell said, smiling, "I didn't"

Sergeant John Marston Moore, USMCR, wearing a T-shirt and hospital pajama pants, was in bed when McCoy pushed open the door and walked in.

The top of the bed was raised to a nearly vertical position.

And spread out before him on the food tray was the balsawood framework of a model airplane wing, to which Moore was attaching tissue paper covering.

He looked up with curiosity, then annoyance, and finally surprised recognition as the Marine officer and the girl walked into the room.

"Jesus!" he said.

"And the Virgin Mary," McCoy said. "I thought I told you to remember to duck, asshole."

"Ken!" Ernie said, and then, "Hello, John, how are you?"

"Surprised," Moore said. He looked at McCoy and went on, "I read in the papers about the Makin Island raid. I thought you would have been in on that."

"He was," Ernie said. "And almost got himself killed."

"No, I didn't," McCoy said.

Ernie walked to the bed and handed Moore a package. He removed the covering. It was a box of Fanny Farmer Chocolates; its cover didn't fit very well.

"Well, thanks," Moore said a little uncomfortably.

"I told you he wouldn't want candy," McCoy said.

"Don't be silly. I love chocolate," Moore lied, and quickly opened the box to prove it.

A pint flask of scotch lay on top of the chocolates. His face lit up.

"I hate people who are always right," Ernie said.

"He's a Marine. Marines always know what's important."

"God!" Ernie replied.

"Speaking of Marines," Moore said. "General Pickering. What's that all about?"

"He told me he called you," McCoy said.

"He called, but all he did was ask how I was, and if he could do anything for me. He didn't even tell me he was a general. I saw that in the newspaper. And he didn't tell me you were coming, either."

"Well, he's now a brigadier general; he's our boss; and just as soon as we finish the paperwork, he will have an aide-decamp named Lieutenant Moore." Moore didn't seem especially surprised.

"I wondered what they were going to do with me," he said.

"Now you know," McCoy said. "As soon as you get out of here, you go to Washington."

"I can leave here today," Moore said.

"You're entitled to thirty days' recuperative leave," McCoy said. "You want to tell me about that?"

"What do you mean, tell you about it?"

"Why aren't you out chasing skirts, getting drunk?"

"I can't chase too well using a cane. And when I get drunk, I fall down a lot."

"I mean, what the hell are you doing here making model airplanes?" McCoy pursued.

"Ken, that's none of your business!" Ernie snapped.

Moore looked at McCoy for a full thirty seconds, and then shrugged his shoulders.

"Going home was a disaster," he said. "For reasons I'd rather not get into. Before I went over there, I was... involved with a woman.

Unfortunately she was a married woman. More unfortunately, she went back to her husband. So that leaves what? There's a couple of bars outside the gate here where you can go and have a couple of drinks without being treated like a freak-"

"What do you mean, a freak?" Ernie asked.

"Wounded guys are still a novelty," Moore said. "I am uncomfortable in the role of wounded hero... because I know goddamn well I'm no hero."

"You got the Bronze Star," McCoy said evenly.

`Not for doing anything heroic," Moore said, and then closed off further discussion of the subject by going on, "so I drink in local bars at night and make model airplanes during the day. Or is that against Marine Regulations?"

"I have to make him wear his ribbons, too," Ernie said. "I'll tell you what you're going to do today, John. You're going to put on your uniform and spend the day with us. I don't care if either one of you like it or not, I want to be the girl who has two wounded heroes on her arm." McCoy saw Moore's eyes light up at the suggestion.

"You're going to be here all day?" Moore asked.

"Ken has to go to Parris Island tomorrow," Ernie said.

`I don't suppose I could go with you, could I?" Moore asked.

The door burst open.

Commander Elizabeth H. Jensen, NNC, a short, plump woman in her thirties, marched into the room. She folded her arms across her amply filled stiff white uniform bosom, glowered at McCoy, and announced, "I would like to know exactly what you think you are doing in here!"

"We are about to have a drink to begin the day, Commander," McCoy said, taking his credentials from his pocket and holding them up before Commander Jensen's eyes, "but aside from that, what else we're doing in here is none of your business. If I need you, however, I'll send for you."

[Four]

UNITED STATES ARMY 4TH GENERAL HOSPITAL

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

7 SEPTEMBER 1942

Now shorn, shaved, and dressed in a splendidly tailored officer's green elastique uniform, Major Jake Dillon sat with his hand wrapped around a glass of scotch at a small table in the Officer's Club. Two young and quite attractive members of the Navy Nurse Corps sat on either side of him.

He had flown in this morning from Townsville on a Royal Australian Air Force airplane that Commander Feldt arranged.

One of the nurses was Lieutenant (J.G.) Joanne Miller, NNCR, a tall, slim nurse-anesthesiologist who wore her fine blond hair in a bun. The other was Lieutenant (J.G.) Barbara T. Cotter, NNCR, a psychiatric nurse. She was also a blonde, but her hair was shorter. She was also not quite as tall as Lieutenant Miller, and a bit heavier-but by no means unpleasantly so. The two were part of a very small group of Navy nurses-with-special-training temporarily assigned to the Army Hospital. They were roommates and had become friends.

The U.S. Army 4th General Hospital was one of the very few facilities in Australia that had never been a major logistical problem. The Royal Melbourne Hospital was originally completed in late 1940. It was an enormous, fully equipped medical establishment that had simply been turned over to the United States Army for the duration of the war. The only thing it lacked was officer's billeting and an officer's club; but it was no problem to convert facilities originally intended for use by the medical school to those purposes. That was where Dillon and the two nurses were now sitting.

"There's a pretty one, Jake," Lieutenant Miller said, nodding toward a tall, good-looking Marine first lieutenant coming into the room, walking with a cane. He wore parachutist's wings pinned on his tunic.

"You stay away from that guy, honey," Dillon said, recognizing the officer.

"Why do you say that, Jake?" Lieutenant (J.G.) Barbara T. Cotter, NNCR, asked, surprised.

After a moment Jake Dillon said, "I don't know. There's something about that guy I don't like."

"You know him?"

Dillon nodded. "I met him once in the States. I just remembered where."

"I thought your criterion was `handsome hero,' " Joanne Miller said.

"Handsome, wounded hero,"' Jake corrected her and then looked at Barbara Cotter. "Handsome, honey, not pretty."

"Sorry. It's just that I've never been out with a man when he was looking for handsome men," Barbara said, and both women laughed.

"Thanks a lot, girls," Jake said. "Buy your own booze."

"I guess the one at the end of the bar won't qualify, huh, Jake?"

Barbara asked. Jake looked in the direction of her nod.

An officer, an aviator, was standing at the bar looking down at his drink. He had a large bandage over his nose; the adhesive tape holding it extended to his jawline and temples. Under the bandage, his face was a large bruise from the lip line to above his eyes.

"Jesus, what happened to him?" Dillon asked.

"It's not as bad as it looks," Joanne said. "He slammed his face into a control panel. There were some fractures in the nasal passage area; they went in and straightened things out."

"I know him," Jake said, surprise in his voice. "Excuse me." He got up and went to the young officer at the bar.

"I'm Jake Dillon, Lieutenant. Don't we know each other?"

The young officer looked at him.

`No, Sir. I don't think so."

"Lakehurst," Dillon insisted. "Charley Galloway? A light colonel-what the hell was his name?-jumped out of your airplane and his chute didn't open?" Recognition came.

"Yes, Sir," Lieutenant Jim Ward said. "You were the press agent excuse me, public relations officer, right?"

"I don't think press agent is a dirty word," Dillon said. "I thought it was you." They shook hands.

"If you're alone," Dillon said, "I'm not. Want to join us?" He nodded toward the table where the girls were sitting.

"That's the best offer I've had in a long time," Ward said.

"The smaller one is taken," Dillon said.

"I admire your taste."

"Not by me, but taken," Dillon said.

As they walked to the table, Dillon saw the parachutist officer glance at them, and then saw recognition in his eyes. He did not respond.

"Ladies, I would love to introduce this wounded, handsome hero to you, but I just realized I've forgotten his name," Dillon said.

"Jim Ward," Ward said.

"He's a pal of a pal of mine," Dillon went on. "Captain Charley Galloway." The women rather formally shook hands with Ward.

"We've met before too," Joanne said. "I passed the gas when they fixed your face. Are you supposed to be drinking?"

"Well, I hadn't planned on driving anywhere," Ward said.

"Speaking of Charley?" Dillon said.

"He's on the `Canal," Ward said. "Commanding VMF229."

"Christ, I wish I'd known that," Dillon said. "I just came out of Henderson." Ward looked at Dillon with an interest he had not shown before.

"What were you doing on Guadalcanal?" he asked.

"I suppose most people would say I was getting in the way," Dillon replied, and went on: "How's Charley doing?"

"He was shot down. He floated around all night and then a PT boat picked him up. Aside from that, he's fine."

"What happened to you?" Dillon asked.

"I made a bad landing," Ward said. "And bumped my nose on the control panel."

"He lost-temporarily, by the grace of God-the use of his right eye when his windshield was shot away," Joanne said matter-of-factly. "Plexiglas fragments. When he landed, his gear collapsed, and the airplane's nose hit the ground with such force that the seat was ripped loose. The main reason they sent him here was that they couldn't believe he walked away from that crash with nothing more than broken ribs and a broken nose."

"Jesus," Dillon said.

"I really hope your deep research into my background also came up with the fact that I'm single, available, and that dogs and old ladies like me," Jim Ward said.

"So how are you?" Dillon asked.

"Until about five minutes ago I was feeling sorry for myself," Jim Ward said.

"Why?" Joanne asked.

"Just before I came in here tonight, I was told that I couldn't go back to the squadron until my ribs healed, and that for the next three to four weeks I will be an assistant morale and welfare officer of the detachment of patients. Among other things I am to make sure the bingo games are honest."

"Be grateful, for Christ's sake," Dillon said.

Lieutenant Jim Ward looked directly at Lieutenant Joanne Miller.

"Oh, I am now," he said.

She looks uncomfortable, Dillon thought, but not displeased

"Excuse me, Major," the officer wearing parachutist's wings and walking with a cane said, "but aren't you Major Dillon?"

"That's right."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, Sir, but haven't we met?"

"Yeah. At Lakehurst," Dillon said. "We were just talking about that."

"Why don't you pull up a chair, Lieutenant? And sit down?" Joanne Miller said.

Why the hell did I do that? she thought. Because I wanted him to take the strain off his leg? Or because ol' I-bumped-my-nose=on-the-control-panel here is making a pass at me? Or because I don't like my reaction to the pass? I will not get emotionally involved with him or any of the others. I don't want to go through what Barbara's going through.

"With the Major's permission?" the parachutist officer asked.

"Yeah. Go ahead. Sit down," Jake said. "The ladies are Lieutenants Miller and Cotter. You remember Jim Ward?"

"No, I can't say that I do," the parachutist said, glancing at Ward and dismissing him. "I'm Dick Macklin," he said to the women. "I'm very pleased to meet you." Dillon did not like the way Macklin was smiling at Barbara Cotter.

He remembered now why it was he didn't like Lieutenant Macklin. Not specific details, just that when they had been at Lakehurst, Macklin had been chickenshit. He was perfectly willing to throw an enlisted man to the wolves so he would look good-a PFC or a corporal, Jake now remembered, although he couldn't come up with a face or a name.

All good Marine officers have contempt for such officers. But in Jake Dillon's case, the contempt was magnified by his own experience with chickenshit officers. He had far more time in The Corps as a sergeant than he did as a field-grade officer and gentleman.

If you make a pass at Barbara, I'll break your other fucking leg. Why did I tell this sonofabitch it was all right to sit down?

As a matter of fact, if you make a pass at either one, I'll break your other fucking leg.

"May I ask, Sir," Macklin said, "if you're a fellow patient?"

"Just passing through," Dillon said.

"On your way to Guadalcanal?"

"No," Dillon said.

"We had press people with us," Macklin said. He raised his stiff leg. "That's where I caught this. I went in with the first wave of parachutists when we hit the beach at Gavutu."

"Then we went in at about the same time," Dillon said, wearing a patently insincere smile. "I went in to Tulagi with Jack Stecker's 2nd Battalion of the Fifth."

"Really?" Barbara Cotter asked. It was the first time Jake had said anything about what he had done at Guadalcanal.

Without thinking about it, she'd decided that as a press agent, Jake had gone in after the beach had been secured.

"Jack Stecker and I were sergeants in the Fourth," Dillon said. "He let me tag along."

That's not surprising, Barbara thought.

Jake was like Joe Howard. Both were Marine Mustangs (officers commissioned from the ranks); she knew the type.

They felt somehow cheated if they weren't where the fighting was. This was admirable, unless of course you were in love with one of them, in which case they were damned fools.

Barbara hadn't believed a word Dillon told her about Joe Howard being all right. What she didn't already know, or guess, about the Coast watchers and Joe's chances of survival, she had learned from Yeoman Daphne Farnsworth, Royal Australian Navy Women's Volunteer Reserve. Daphne not only worked with the Coast watchers, she had become involved with Sergeant Steve Koffler before the two Marines parachuted onto Buka.

"What happened to you, Ward?" Macklin asked, obviously not wanting to swap war stories with Dillon.

"I thought the guy said `stand up,"' Jim Ward said. "What he said was `shut up."

"He got hurt flying out of Henderson with VMF-229. With Charley Galloway," Dillon said. "You remember Charley, don't you, Macklin?"

"No, Sir," Macklin said, searching his memory.

Jim Ward not only remembered Lieutenant Macklin from Lakehurst; he'd picked up on Dillon's contempt; and was just as annoyed as Dillon with Macklin's raised-leg, look-at-me-the-hero attitude.

"Sure, you do," Ward said. "He was our instructor pilot on the Gooneybird. Tech Sergeant Galloway?"

yes, of course." Captain Galloway, now," Jim Ward added. "My squadron commander."

"Really?" Macklin asked.

From the look on Macklin's face, Ward saw that he had struck home. Nothing else he could have said would so annoy a Regular Marine officer with a commission from Annapolis than to be told that a technical sergeant he had tried to push around now outranked him as an officer and a gentleman.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Richard B. Macklin might not have been a prince among men, or even a very decent human being, but he was no fool. He saw that his high hopes to get to know one of the nurses, perhaps even carnally, were not going to come to fruition.

Although Dillon had claimed that the blonde with the big boobs was taken, she kept looking at Dillon with something like affection. And the other one kept stealing looks at the aviator.

He had been done in, he realized, by the natural tendency of female officers to be attracted to field-grade officers and/or aviators. He didn't understand this-as far as he was concerned, it took far more courage to jump out of an airplane than it did to fly one-but that was unfortunately the way things were.

"How long are you going to look like that?" Dillon asked Ward.

"I beg your pardon?"

Joanne Miller understood the question.

"He ought to look more or less human in a week or ten days; at least the black-and-blue will have gone away," she said.

"The ribs will take six weeks or so to heal."

"I can fly now," Ward said. "I didn't want to come here and they shouldn't have sent me."

That's not bullshit intended to impress the girls and me, Jake decided. This kid is a Marine.

"Where are you from, Ward?"

"Philadelphia. Or just outside. Jenkintown."

"Right. Where Charley's girlfriend is from, right?"

"She's my aunt," Jim Ward said.

"What about you, Macklin? Where are you from?"

"California, Sir. Near San Diego."

"Where'd you go to school?"

"The Naval Academy, Sir."

Jake Dillon Productions, Jake thought, has just completed final casting of his epic motion picture, or at least newsreel feature epic, Wounded Marine Heroes of 1942.

But I won't tell either of them just yet. Ward will be genuinely pissed when he hears what I'm going to do to him. And I suspect that Macklin will be so pleased I'm taking him out of harm's way that he'll piss his pants.

He remembered a story going around the aid stations on Gavutu and Tulagi about the 2nd Parachute Battalion officer who'd taken a minor flesh wound to his calf and had to be pried, screaming and hysterical, from a piling on the seaplane wharf where he had been hit.

There was absolutely no question in Jake's mind that that officer was now sitting at his table.

Chapter Seven

[One]

FERDINAND SIX

BUKA, SOLOMON ISLANDS

0605 HOURS 7 SEPTEMBER 1942

Sergeant Steven M. Koffler, USMC, woke suddenly and sat up, frightened. His guts were knotted and he had a clammy sweat.

It was from a nightmare, he concluded after a moment, although he couldn't remember any of it.

The feeling of foreboding did not go away. Something was wrong. There was enough light in the hut for him to see that Patience was gone. That was not unusual. Since she had moved in with him, she habitually rose before he did and was out of the hut before he woke.

But then, slowly, it came to him, what was wrong. He heard no noise. There was always noise, the squealing of pigs, the crying of children, the crackling of a fire, even hymn singing.

That image sent his mind wandering: They don't sing hymns here, like in church. It has nothing to do with God. It's just that "Rock of Ages" and "Faith of Our Fathers" and "God Save the King" and "Onward Christian Soldiers" and the other ones are the only music these people have ever heard. He corrected himself. Plus the Marine Hymn, which of course me and Lieutenant Howard taught them.

Why can't I hear anything?

He felt another wave of fear and reached for the Thompson.

He checked the action and then stuck his feet in his boondockers and stood up.

He went to the door of the hut and looked out. No one was in sight.

Where the fuck is everybody?

With his finger on the Thompson's trigger, he left the hut, took one quick look to confirm that no one was visible, then ran into the jungle behind the hut. He moved ten feet inside it, enough for concealment, and then he moved laterally until he found a position where he could observe the other huts.

There was no one there. The fires had gone out.

Even the fucking pigs are gone!

The sonsofbitches ran off on me!

Well, what the hell do you expect? he asked himself. If I wasn't here, they're just a bunch of fucking cannibals; the Japs don't give a shit about cannibals unless they're causing trouble. The worst thing the Japs would do would be to put them to work.

With me here, they're the fucking enemy. The Japs would kill them, slowly, to show they're pissed off. And they'll do it so it hurts, to teach the other cannibals it's not smart to help the While Man. Like cutting off their arms and legs, not just their heads, and leaving the parts laying around.

A chill replaced the clammy sweat.

What the fuck am I going to do now?

He was suddenly, without warning, sick to his stomach.

When that passed, he had an equally irresistible urge to move his bowels.

He moved another fifteen yards through the jungle and watched the camp for another five minutes. Finally he walked out of the jungle and started looking in the huts.

The radio was still there.

Why not? What the hell would they do with the radio?

And he found some baked sweet potatoes, or whatever the hell they were, and some of the smoked pig.

A farewell present? Merry Christmas, Sergeant Koffler? How the fuck long are those sweet potatoes and five, ten pounds of smoked pig going to last me?

Oh, shit!

There came the sound of aircraft engines, a dull roar far off.

Fuck `em! What the fuck do I care if the whole Japanese Air Corps is headed for Guadalcanal?

He walked to the tree house. They'd left him the knotted rope, he found to his surprise. He used it to walk up the trunk.

Good morning, Steven," Patience Witherspoon said. She was sitting on the floor of the platform, wearing an expression that said she expected to be kicked.

Ian Bruce was leaning against the trunk.

"You heard the engines, Sergeant Koffler?"

"Fuck the engines, where the hell is everybody?"

"The men went to seek Lieutenant Reeves," Ian said. "The women have gone away from here."

"Gone where?"

"You would not know where they have gone," Ian said with irrefutable logic. "Away.

`Why?"

"If it has not gone well with Lieutenant Reeves, the Japanese will come looking for us. If they find this place, with the radio, they may believe there were no other white men. You will come with us to where the women are making a camp. We may be able to hide you."

"You think something fucked up, went wrong, don't you?"

"I think something has fucked up. Otherwise Lieutenant Reeves would have returned when he said he would return."

"Why wasn't I told?"

"Because I knew you would forbid it," Ian Bruce said.

"Lieutenant Reeves left you in charge; he told me I was to take your orders as if they had come from him."

"What are you doing up here, then?" Steve asked.

"Watching for the Japanese aircraft," Ian said. "We will need the binoculars."

"They're in my hut," Steve replied automatically.

"I will get them," Patience said, and quickly got to her feet and started down the knotted rope.

"If we're going to hide in the goddamned jungle," Steve asked, "why are we bothering with this shit, anyway?"

"Because," Ian Bruce said, again with irrefutable logic, "we do not know that Lieutenant Reeves is dead. We only believe he is. Until we know for sure, or until the Japanese come, we will do what he wishes us to do."

"Semper Fi, right?"

"I do not understand."

"Yeah, you do," Steve said.

"Is that English?"

"It's Marine," Steve said. "It means... you do what you're expected to do, I guess. Or try, anyway."

"I see," Ian Bruce said solemnly.

[Two]

USMC REPLACEMENT DEPOT

PARRIS ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA

2250 HOURS 7 SEPTEMBER 1942

Because he was on a routine check of the guard posts, the officer of the day happened to be at the main gate when the 1939 LaSalle convertible pulled up to the guard and stopped.

It had been a long and dull evening and showed little prospect of getting more interesting.

"Hold it a minute," the OD said to his jeep driver.

"Aye, aye, Sir," the driver said and stopped the jeep.

The OD got out and walked toward the LaSalle. The driver was apparently showing his orders to the guard, for the beam of the guard's flashlight illuminated the interior. The OD saw that the car held two lieutenants, neither of whom was wearing his cover.

But what the hell, it's almost eleven o'clock.

"Welcome to sand flea heaven," the OD said. "Reporting in?"

"Just visiting," McCoy replied.

He was a first lieutenant, the OD saw, not any older than he himself was. But he was wearing a double row of ribbons, including the Bronze Star and what looked like the Purple Heart with two clusters on it. The other one was a second lieutenant, and he too was wearing ribbons signifying that he had been wounded and decorated for valor.

Am I being a suspicious prick, or just doing my job? the OD wondered as he reached to take the orders from the guard.

The orders were obviously genuine. They were issued by Headquarters, USMC, and ordered First Lieutenant K. R.

McCoy to proceed by military or civilian road, rail, or air transportation, or at his election, by privately owned vehicle, to Philadelphia, Penna., Parris Island, S.C., and such other destinations as he deemed necessary in the carrying out of his mission for the USMC Office of Management Analysis.

What the hell is the Office of Management Analysis?

"Well, as I said," the OD said, smiling, "welcome to sand flea heaven."

"I know all about the sand fleas," McCoy said, smiling. "But how do I find the BOQ?"

"How do you know about the sand fleas and not the BOQ?" the OD asked, and immediately felt like a fool as the answer came to him: This guy was a Mustang. He had gone through Parris Island as an enlisted man before getting a commission.

He knew about sand fleas. But Marine boots do not know where bachelor officers rest their weary heads.

Follow the signs to the Officer's Club," the OD said. "Drive past it.

Look to your right. Two-story frame building on your right."

"Thank you," McCoy said.

The guard saluted. McCoy returned it. McCoy drove past the barrier.

"Interesting," the OD said to the guard. "Did you see the ribbons on those officers?"

"Yes, Sir. And one of them had a cane, too."

"I wonder what the hell the Office of Management Analysis is?" the OD asked, not expecting an answer.

"I'll tell you something else interesting, Sir," the guard said.

The sergeant major is looking for them. At least for Lieutenant McCoy. He passed the word through the sergeant of the guard we was to call him, no matter when he came aboard."

"Him? Not the OD? Or the General's aide?"

"Him, Sir."

"Well, in that case, Corporal, I would suggest you get on the horn to the sergeant major. Hell hath no fury, as you might have heard."

"Aye, aye, Sir."

"Does this place fill you with fond memories?" McCoy asked as they drove through the Main Post, an area of brick buildings looking not unlike the campus of a small college.

"I would rather go back to Guadalcanal than go through here again," Moore said.

"How's your legs?"

"I won't mind lying down."

"Well, you wanted to come."

"And I'm grateful that you brought me. I was going stir crazy in the hospital."

"I think what you need, pal, is a piece of ass. I also think you're out of luck here."

"Says he, the Croesus of Carnal Wealth," Moore replied.

"What?"

"Says he, who doesn't have that problem."

"What Ernie and I have is something special," McCoy said coldly.

"Hell, I realized that the first time I saw you two looking at each other in San Diego," Moore said. "My reaction then, and now, is profound admiration, coupled with enormous jealousy."

"Your lady really did a job on you, huh?"

"When I got her letter, in Melbourne, I was fantasizing about getting to be an officer and marching into the Bellvue Stratford in my officer's uniform with her on my arm.... `Dear John,' the letter said."

"Hell, your name is John," McCoy said. "And you have your officer's uniform, three sets of khakis, anyway...

And thank you for that, too. I wouldn't have known where to go to buy them."

"Horstmann Uniform has been selling uniforms to The Corps since Christ was a corporal," McCoy said. "And as I was saying, your Dear John letter lady is not the only female in the world."

"So I keep telling myself," Moore said.

"Well, there's the club, and it looks like it's still open. Would you like a drink?"

"I'll pass, thank you," Moore said. "But go ahead if you want to." "I've got a couple of pints in my bag," McCoy said. "I didn't really want to go in there anyway." A moment later he said, "That must be it." Moore looked up and saw a two-story frame building.

McCoy drove around behind it and parked the car. Since he'd packed Moore's two spare khaki uniforms in his own bag, there was only one to carry.

A corporal was on duty in the lobby of the Bachelor Officer's Quarters.

McCoy told him they were transients and needed rooms; and the corporal gave them a register to sign, then handed each of them a key.

"End of the corridor to the right, Sir. Number twelve."

"Thank you," McCoy said and walked up the stairs.

Halfway down the corridor he swore bitterly: "Shit! Sonofabitch! " Moore saw the source of his anger. A neatly lettered sign was thumbtacked to one of the doors. It read, RESERVED FOR KILLER McCoy.

He walked quickly to the sign and ripped it down. He started to put his key to the lock in the door, but it opened before he could reach it.

"Well, if it isn't Lieutenant McCoy," a man wearing the three stripes up, three lozenges down insignia of a sergeant major said, standing at rigid attention. "May the sergeant major say, Sir, the Lieutenant looks just fine?"

"That fucking sign isn't funny, goddamn you!" McCoy flared. "What the hell is the matter with you, anyway?" The sergeant major was not as taken aback as Moore expected him to be. He seemed more hurt and disappointed than alarmed by McCoy's intense and genuine anger.

"Aw, come on, Ken," he said.

McCoy glowered at him for a moment and finally said, "I don't know why the hell I'm surprised. You never did have the brains to pour piss out of a boot. How the hell are you, you old bastard?"

"No complaints, Ken," the sergeant major said with obvious affection in his voice, taking McCoy's hand.

And then he saw Moore, and a moment after that, there was recognition in his eyes.

"I believe I know this gentleman, too, don't I?"

"I don't think so," McCoy said. "Moore, this is Sergeant Major Teddy Osgood. We were in the Fourth Marines together."

"Yeah, sure," Moore said. "I remember you now, Sergeant Major. When I left here-"

"Oh?" McCoy asked, curious.

"Captain Sessions came down here and pulled me out of boot camp," Moore explained. "The sergeant major... how do I say it?"

"Handled the administrative details," the sergeant major furnished.

"I remember you telling Captain Sessions that you had known the Killer-OooPs!-Lieutenant McCoy in China."

"If you think that was funny, you asshole, it wasn't," McCoy said.

But he was not, Moore saw, furious anymore.

"I see neither one of you paid attention when you went through here. Is that three Purple Hearts, Ken?"

"Two of them are bullshit," McCoy said. "Moore took some mortar shrapnel on Guadalcanal. He needs to lie down."

"This is a field-grade officer's suite, all kinds of places to lay down," Osgood said. "Would you like a drink, Lieutenant?"

"Yes, thank you, I would," Moore said.

"Get in bed, I'll make the drinks," McCoy said.

"That Captain said you was with the 2nd Raider Battalion," Osgood said to McCoy.

"I was."

"You were on the Makin Island raid?" McCoy nodded.

"And now?"

"I'm doing more or less what Captain Sessions does," McCoy said.

"Yeah, I figured that. When the TWX came in saying you was coming, the G-2 shit a brick. What the hell do you people do, anyway?" McCoy didn't immediately reply. He dug in his bag, fished out a pint of scotch, poured some in a glass, and handed it to Moore, who by then had crawled onto one of the beds.

"The name is the Office of Management Analysis," he said finally. "We're sort of in the supply business."

"Yeah, sure you are. That's why every time we get some boot who speaks Japanese, who has civilian experience as a radio operator, or who's lived over there, we notify you, right? So they can pass out rations, right?"

"Right," McCoy said.

"Well, I got a dozen, thirteen people, lined up for you to talk to tomorrow, three who speak Japanese... what do you call them?"

"Linguists," McCoy said.

"... half a dozen amateur radio operators, and a couple of guys who are going to cryptography school."

"Great," McCoy said. "Everything laid on for me, us, to talk to them?"

"You tell me when and where and I'll have them there."

"You got someplace?"

"Yeah. I'll take care of it," Osgood said. "I'll send a car for you in the morning. You have to make your manners with the G-2, I guess?"

"I suppose we'll have to," McCoy said.

"There's another guy, Ken. He don't speak Jap, and he's no radio operator, but he's interesting."

"Why interesting?"

"Well, for one thing, he used to be a cop. Actually a vice squad detective. Saint Louis."

"A vice squad detective?" Moore asked, laughing.

"Maybe he could do something to solve your problem, Lieutenant," McCoy said, and then added, "I don't understand, Teddy."

"He went after one of his DIs, was going to break his arm."

"Sounds like my kind of guy," Moore said.

Osgood looked at him and smiled. "The word is that the DI, an assistant DI, is a real asshole."

"And this guy broke his arm?" McCoy asked.

"No. The platoon DI saw what he was up to and stopped him. He said the guy really knows how to use a knife. If he had wanted to cut the DI, kill him, he would be dead, the DI said.

But all he wanted to do was break his arm. I guess he figured he could get away with that."

"They court-martial him?"

"No. For what? The DI said, `Try to kill me." The guy was just obeying orders. The platoon DI came to me and explained the situation, and I transferred the guy to another platoon."

"Is this guy a sleaze, Teddy?" McCoy asked.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what does he look like, what does he act like?"

"I don't know. I never actually seen him. His platoon DI's a friend of mine, and he must have sort of liked this guy or he wouldn't have come to me about him."

"Or, like you said, the assistant DI is an asshole and he figured he deserved a broken arm. I want to see him, Teddy. Can you arrange that?"

"No problem," Osgood said. "I'll have him there with the others."

"You want another one of these?" McCoy asked, extending the pint of scotch to Moore. He suspected, correctly, that Moore was both exhausted by their trip and in pain.

"Please," Moore said, taking the bottle.

"What about now?" McCoy said. "Let's see how he reacts to getting up in the middle of the night."

"You're serious, aren't you?" Osgood asked.

"Yeah, I'm serious," McCoy said. He looked at Moore.

"After I talked to your new boss, I talked to Captain Sessions.

He said I should also ask about getting your new boss an orderly, or a driver, but really somebody to pick up the papers he leaves lying around when he's not supposed to."

"Oh," Moore said.

"He also used the word `bodyguard' but said we shouldn't say it around your boss."

"Yeah," Moore said, understanding.

"Why not?" Sergeant Major Osgood said. "Everybody knows people in the supply business need bodyguards. Who is your boss, anyway?"

"None of your fucking business," McCoy said. "Since you asked." The sergeant major chuckled. He went to the bedside table, pulled open a drawer, took out a mimeographed telephone directory, found the number he was looking for, and dialed it.

"This is the sergeant major," he said "Roll Private Hart, George F., out of the sack. Have him standing by in full field gear in five minutes. I'll send a vehicle for him."

Private Hart was not surprised when the lights in the squad bay came on in the middle of the night. That happened all the time. Nor was he particularly surprised when the drill instructor marched down the aisle between the rows of double bunks, his heels crashing against the wooden, washed-nearly-white flooring, and stopped at his bunk.

At least I'm out of the sack and at attention, he thought, taking some small solace from the situation.

It was not the first time since he had been transferred to his new platoon that he'd been singled out for what was euphemistically called "extra training." This most often consisted of an order to get dressed and take a couple of double-time laps around the barracks area with his rifle held over his head. But a couple of times they woke him at two in the morning to practice "basic elements of field fortification." That meant digging a man-sized hole with his entrenching tool and filling it up again. Then they let him shower and get back in the sack.

He understood now why they'd done those things. His new DI and his assistants wanted to make sure he was not a wiseass who had to be broken to fit the Marine mold. Although what he had almost done to Corporal Clayton C. Warren, USMC, had not officially happened and was supposed to be kept as quiet as possible to protect the dignity of the DI Corps, they knew about it, obviously, and so they wanted to make sure about him.

For his part, he'd obeyed their orders without complaint and to the best of his ability. And the DI here and his assistants, while they were a stiff-necked bunch of bastards, were at least a reasonably fair trio of stiff-necked bastards-a marvelous improvement over Corporal Clayton C. Warren, USMC.

It was against Holy Writ to meet the eyes of a DI; one was required to stare off into space. So it was a moment before Private Hart became aware that the DI whose face was an inch and a half from his was the DI, Staff Sergeant Homer Hungleberry, USMC, and that Staff Sergeant Hungleberry was attired in his boondockers and skivvies only.

"Caught you with your cock in your hand, did I, Hart?"

"Sir, no, Sir."

"What have you done that I don't know about, Hart?"

What the fuck is he talking about?

"Sir, I don't know."

"When I find out, and I will find out, I will have your ass twice. Once for doing something I don't know about and once for lying to me about it."

"Sir, yes, Sir."

"So there is something?"

"Sir, no, Sir."

"Utilities, full field gear, helmet, piece, in five minutes!"

"Sir, aye, aye, Sir." Staff Sergeant Hungleberry withdrew his face from Private Hart's, did a left-face, and marched back down the aisle between the rows of double bunks. When he reached the light switch, he turned off the lights.

Private Hart, in the dark, located a set of utilities, his socks, boondockers, field equipment, and helmet and carried them down the aisle toward the head, where one 40-watt bulb (others were ritually unscrewed from their sockets) was allowed to burn all night.

The firewatch, a boot required to stay awake all night, was in the head.

"What the fuck did you do now?" he inquired.

"Does it fucking matter?" Hart replied as he hastily pulled on his utilities, the field equipment, his socks, and shoved his feet into his boondockers and tied them.

"You did something," the firewatch said helpfully. "And he knows. "

"Fuck you," Private Hart said as he put his helmet on his head.

How the hell am I going to get my piece? My fucking piece is in the fucking arms rack, and the fucking arms rack is locked.

The answer came: When he comes out of his room, he will find me standing at fucking attention by the arms rack waiting for him to unlock the sonofabitch.

Staff Sergeant Hungleberry, now fully dressed, appeared. He examined Private Hart, who was standing at rigid attention.

"You have hearing problems, Hart?"

"Sir, no, Sir."

"Do I speak indistinctly Or was I maybe talking in Chinese?"

"Sir, no, Sir."

"Then you did understand me to say, `Utilities, full field gear, helmet, and piece in five minutes'?"

"Sir, yes, Sir."

"Then where is your fucking piece?"

"Sir, in the arms rack, Sir, and the arms rack, Sir, is locked, Sir."

"Do you really think I would ask you to take your piece from a locked arms rack?"

"Sir, no, Sir."

"Then get your fucking piece from the arms rack!" The sonofabitch unlocked the fucking rack before he came storming down the aisle!

"Sir, aye, aye, Sir!" He retrieved his piece, U.S. Rifle, Springfield, Model of 1903, Serial Number 2456577, from its assigned place, third from the right on the squad bay side, worked the action to ensure that it was empty, and came to attention again.

on are still telling me that you have no idea why the ant major wants to see you?" The sergeant major? What the fuck does the sergeant major want with me at midnight?

"Sir, yes, Sir. I don't know why the sergeant major wants to see me, Sir."

"'Ten-HUT! Right SHOULDER, Harms! Right Face! Fohwud, Harch! Open the door when you get to it!" Private Hart marched off, opened the door when he came to it, marched through it, down the shallow stairs and toward the next barracks.

"Detail, HALT!" After approximately two minutes, which seemed like much longer, the headlights of a Chevrolet pickup truck illuminated the area, and then the truck stopped about eight inches from Private Hart.

He could faintly but clearly hear the conversation between his DI and the corporal driving the truck.

"What the fuck is going on here?"

"Beats the shit out of me. All I know is I was told to come here and get some boot named Hart and take him to the BOQ."

"The BOQ? I thought the sergeant major sent for him."

"To the sergeant major at the BOQ," the corporal clarified.

"Shit!"

"That's all I know, Sergeant," the corporal said righteously. "You coming, or just him? That is him?"

"Hart, get in the fucking truck!"

"Sir, aye, aye, Sir." The opening and then slamming of the passenger door told Private Hart that his DI had decided his duty required him to accompany him to the sergeant major at the BOQ.

The sergeant major at the BOQ? What the hell is going on?

Ten minutes later the pickup stopped in front of a two-story frame building in a part of Parris Island Private Hart had never been to.

He saw a man he had never seen before. But to judge by the stripes on his sleeves and his assured manner as he approached the truck, he was certainly the sergeant major.

"Who are you?"

"Hungleberry, Sergeant Major."

"That Hart?"

"Yes, Sergeant Major."

"What took you so long?"

"We was ready when the truck got there," Staff Sergeant Hungleberry said righteously.

"Get him out of the truck and march him to room twelve.

Left corridor, last door on the right. Report to the officers."

"Right," Sergeant Hungleberry replied. Then he raised his voice: "Out of the truck, Hart!" Hart got out of the truck.

"'Ten-HUT! PORT, Harms! Lu-eft, FACE! Foh-wud, HARCH! Up the stairs and into the building." When Private Hart passed the sergeant major, the sergeant ma3or leaned forward to get a good look at Private Hart.

Private Hart could smell his breath; he had been in enough bars to recognize the smell of whiskey there. Indeed, his experience as a vice squad detective had given him the expertise to make a professional judgment: The sergeant major had been drinking scotch, and in quantities sufficient to place in grave doubt his ability to walk a straight line or to close his eyes and touch his nose with his finger.

Jesus Christ, now what? What the fuck is this all about? I've heard they take people out behind barracks and beat the shit out of them. Is that why nothing happened to me for trying to break that asshole's arm? They were saving me for this? Are the sergeant major, drunk -and maybe a couple of drunken officers really going to leach me that they just won't tolerate trying to break a DIs arm?

Staff Sergeant Hungleberry marched Private Hart into the room, again ordered, "De-tail, HALT!" and then barked, "Sir, Staff Sergeant Hungleberry reporting to the Lieutenant with a detail of one, Sir!"

"Come!"

"Put your detail at ease, Sergeant," the officer ordered conversationally.

"Aww-duh, HARMS! Puh-rade, REST!"

"I said, `at ease,' Sergeant," the officer said.

"At EASE!"

After Private Hart complied, he dared to look around the room. There were two officers, both young. One was a second lieutenant, sprawled on a bed, a whiskey glass resting on his stomach. He was wearing khakis. His field scarf was pulled down the top three buttons of his shirt were open.

Hart recognized the Purple Heart among the ribbons pinned to the shirt.

The other officer was a first lieutenant, and he too had ribbons pinned to his shirt, including the Purple Heart. In the fleeting instant when their eyes met, Private Hart's professional experience told him, this guy can be one mean sonofabitch.

"You're his DI?" the mean-looking officer asked.

"Yes, Sir. Staff Sergeant Hungleberry, Sir."

"OK, Sergeant. Tell me, is this guy going to be a Marine or not?" The question surprised Hungleberry. It was a moment before he replied:

"I guess he'll be all right, Sir." That's the nicest thing anybody has said about me since I came to this fucking hellhole.

"I didn't ask for a guess, Sergeant. I asked whether this guy make a Marine or not?" The hesitation this time was longer.

"Yes, Sir, in my opinion, he'll be all right."

"Thank you," the officer said. He turned to the dresser behind him and picked up a pint of scotch. "Sorry to keep you out of the sack at this time of night, but we want to talk to him.

He tossed the pint to the sergeant major, who had come into the room.

"Take the sergeant someplace and give him a little taste, Teddy, would you, please?" the officer said.

"Aye, aye, Sir," the sergeant major said. In a moment Hart heard the door close.

"My name is McCoy," the officer said. "That's Lieutenant Moore."

"Yes, Sir."

"I understand you're a tough guy," McCoy said.

Hart could not think of a proper reply to that. He did not answer.

"I understand you tried to break your DI's arm. Yes or no?"

"Yes, Sir.

"I also understand you know how to use a knife?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Why didn't you kill the DI? Everybody seems agreed that he's an asshole."

"I didn't want to go to Portsmouth, Sir."

"Good reason," McCoy said. "I asked you a question before. Are you a tough guy or not?"

"I used to be a cop, Lieutenant," Hart said. "I suppose I'm as tough as most cops."

"Tougher than some7"

"Yes, Sir."

"You look like you could use a drink," McCoy said. "Lean your piece against the wall." The offer completely surprised Hart. McCoy saw his hesitation and laughed.

"Go ahead," he said. "You're not the first guy to go through here, including me, who wanted to kill his DI. You're the first sane one I've met who actually tried to." He walked to Hart, took his rifle from him, and motioned him into a chair. He leaned the rifle against a wall, and then he poured whiskey into a glass and handed it to him.

"You want some water?"

"No, thank you, Sir."

"Why did you want to be a cop?"

"My whole family is cops."

"When you were a cop, did you ever use your weapon? Kill somebody? Or try to?"

"Yes, Sir." Hart took a sip of the whiskey. For the first time he saw Moore's cane.

"Which? Tried to? Or did?"

"I had to kill a couple of people, Sir, when I was a cop."

"Is that why you joined the crotch?" Moore asked somewhat thickly. "To kill people?"

What did he say? The crotch?

Hart saw McCoy flash Moore an angry look, but then he turned to Hart:

"Answer the question."

"A goddamn recruiter lied to me," Hart blurted.

"No shit?" McCoy replied sarcastically. "I thought a cop would be smarter than that."

"This was a clever sonofabitch," Hart said, and a split second later remembered to append, "Sir."

"What did he tell you?" McCoy asked.

"That The Corps wanted guys who had been cops to be sort of cops for The Corps, Sir."

"And you believed him?"

"I believed the sonofabitch who told me I'd get a commission when I got through here," Moore said.

He's drunk, Hart realized.

"You have a commission." McCoy chuckled.

"Yeah, now."

"You're plastered," McCoy added, still chuckling, as if the realization pleased him. "You've been an officer forty-eight hours and already you're guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Try not to fall out of bed."

"Fuck you, McCoy." McCoy shook his head and turned to Hart.

"You know what a full background investigation is?"

"Yes, Sir."

"I want straight answers now. Don't try to be clever. If we ran one on you, what would it turn up?" Hart considered the question. Before he had formed a reply, McCoy went on.

"You're German, right? You or anybody in your family ever been involved with the German-American Bund? Anything like that?"

"No, Sir."

"How about the Communist Party? You, or anybody close, family, friends, ever been involved with that? Maybe the Abraham Lincoln Brigade?"

"No, Sir."

"Now don't get hot under the collar, but you're not a secret faggot, are you?"

"Jesus Christ, McCoy!" Moore complained.

"Are you?"

"No, Sir."

"How do you feel about rich people?"

"Excuse me?"

"How do you feel about rich people. I mean, really rich people?"

"I never met any," Hart replied, hesitated, and added, "Sir."

"The Lieutenant is asking," Moore explained, carefully pronouncing each syllable, "if you would be comfortable working with someone who is enormously wealthy, or whether you would disgrace the crotch by pissing in the potted palms."

What the fuck is this all about?

McCoy laughed.

"He doesn't usually get this pissed on a couple of drinks. I'm beginning to be sorry I brought you down here with me."

"I'm not pissed," Moore said. "How could I possibly be pissed? I've only had two or three little nips."

"You answer the question," McCoy said. "How do you think... could he work with the General?"

"I think the General would like him," Moore said. "But then, I have been wrong before."

"Hart, what we're looking for is someone to be a bodyguard for a general. The General is not going to like the idea of having a bodyguard. Could you handle something like that?"

"I didn't know generals had bodyguards," Hart blurted.

"Most of them don't. This one needs one."

"I really don't know."

"Your other option is taking your piece on a ship and going to a line company in someplace like Guadalcanal," Moore said. "They shoot people on Guadalcanal. It smarts when they shoot you."

"You've gone too far," McCoy flared. "Shut your fucking mouth!"

"Aye, aye, Sir," Moore said and threw McCoy an insulting mockery of a salute.

"The other qualification is the ability to keep your mouth shut," McCoy said to Hart.

"I think I could do that," Hart said.

"Yeah, so do I," McCoy said. "OK. Decision made. If you don't get along with... the officer we're talking about, we'll find something else for you to do. But one last time, if a CBI turns up something you're concealing from me, I will personally guarantee that you'll spend the rest of the war in an infantry line company."

"No, Sir. I know there's nothing in my background that would keep me from getting a security clearance. That's what you're talking about, isn't it? A Secret Clearance?"

"No," McCoy said. "Not Secret. We start with Secret and go up from there. Go find the sergeant major, would you, and ask him to come in here?"

"Aye, aye, Sir." It took Hart several minutes to find Sergeant Major Osgood and Staff Sergeant Hungleberry. When they went back to the room, Lieutenant Moore was throwing up into a wastebasket.

"Jesus!" Sergeant Major Osgood said.

"I took him out of the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia, Teddy," McCoy explained. "That was dumb. He's not nearly as healthy as he thinks he is. He took some nasty mortar hits on the `Canal."

"He going to be all right?"

"Hung over," McCoy said. "Teddy, we'll be taking Hart with us. Same deal as before, with Moore. I want him to disappear from his company and I don't want anybody talking about it."

"You got it, Ken."

"I don't know what's going on," Staff Sergeant Hungleberry said.

"That's right, you don't," Sergeant Major Osgood said.

"What you're going to do now is take Hart to collect his stuff and then bring him back here. If anybody asks any questions tonight, refer them to me. I'll fix things with the brass in the morning."

"OK," Hungleberry said, doubtfully.

"What about the other guys, Ken?"

"I'll make my manners with the G-2 first thing in the morning, and I want to see them as soon as possible after that."

"Aye, aye, Sir. You going to need any help with him?"

"I was thinking of giving him a cold shower," McCoy said.

"Fuck your cold shower," Lieutenant John Marston Moore said. And then he was nauseated again.

[Three]

TASIMBOKO, GUADALCANAL

0530 HOURS 8 SEPTEMBER 1942

In early September, intelligence from Native Scouts attached to the First Marine Division reported several thousand Japanese in the vicinity of the village of Tasimboko, twenty miles down the coast from Henderson. Previous intelligence had placed the Japanese strength at no more than three hundred.

The inclination was to disbelieve this report, since it had not come from an established source and there were no confirming data from other sources. But arguing for it was the reputation of the Native Scouts. They had originally been part of the Royal Australian Navy Coastwatcher Establishment. Not only were they men of incredible courage, they had never been wrong before.

On 6 September 1942, an operations order was issued by Headquarters, First Marine Division, ordering the formation of a provisional battalion. After formation it would proceed by sea from Lunga Point to a beach near Taivu Point, from where it would stage a raid on the village of Tasimboko. The primary purpose of the raid was to confirm or deny the presence of several thousand Japanese and to destroy whatever Japanese materiel came into their hands.

The provisional battalion consisted of elements of the 1st Raider Battalion and the 1st Parachute Battalion. These "elements" were all that was left of them after the invasion. The parachute battalion had taken severe losses.

Lieutenant Colonel "Red Mike" Edson was senior to the 1st Parachute Battalion commander, and thus he was placed in command.

Transport from the port of departure (the beach near First Marine Division headquarters) to the raid site was to be by high-speed transport. This was something of a misnomer.

High-speed transports were World War I destroyers with half their boilers removed; the space was converted to troop berthing. Removal of the boilers had lowered the vessels' speed to approximately that of an ordinary transport, but the ex-destroyers had retained most of their armament.

When the high-speed transports appeared offshore, it was immediately evident that there were not enough of them to carry the entire provisional battalion. And so hasty amendments were made to the operations order. These called for the 1st Raider Battalion to board the transports, invest and secure the beach near Tasimboko, and then hold in place until the transports could return to Lunga Point, board the 1st Parachute Battalion, and transport them to the raid area.

The Raiders began to land east of Tasimboko at dawn.

Largely because Gunnery Sergeant Joseph J. Johnston took one glance at him and decided that the large, muscular, mean looking sonofabitch was just what he needed, Sergeant Thomas McCoy's reception at Company A, 1st Raider Battalion, was considerably warmer than it had been at Headquarters, 21st Marine Air Group.

For one thing, Able Company was considerably under strength. It took losses during the initial invasion a month before when the 1st Raider Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel "Red Mike" Edson, landed near Lunga Point on Tulagi, a small island twenty-odd miles across SeaLark Channel from Guadalcanal.

And they'd gotten no replacements. Like every other Marine on Guadalcanal, Sergeant Johnston was very much aware that the goddamn Navy sailed away from the beaches with a hell of a lot of Marines, equipment, ammunition, and heavy artillery still in the holds of the transports. And even if some available bodies were ashore, it was unlikely that Colonel Edson would have asked for them: They would have been bodies, not Raiders. Raiders were special to begin with, and they'd been molded into something really special by their training and their first combat.

There had been additional losses since the invasion, most of them due to what The Corps called "noncombat causes." That translated to mean there were a great many very sick Raiders, brought down by tropical disease, mostly malaria, but including some diseases the surgeons and corpsmen had never heard of, much less seen before.

In Sergeant Johnston's opinion, the "rest" they gave the 1st Raiders before they were brought across SeaLark Channel to Guadalcanal had not restored them to what they were before.

What it did was keep a great many more people from getting sick.

So Company A-for that matter, the entire 1st Raider Battalion-was understrength. And the available Marines were on the edge of sickness or near exhaustion (or both) from the lousy chow, the high heat and humidity, and all the necessary manual labor they had to perform.

But there was one particular personnel shortage Sergeant Johnston was especially aware of. He was a great admirer of one particular weapon in The Marine Corps arsenal, the Browning Automatic Rifle-a combination rifle and a machine gun that fired the same.30-06 cartridge.

The weapon, known as the BAR, was considerably lighter than the standard.30 caliber Browning machine gun; but like a machine gun, it was capable of full automatic fire: As long as you held the trigger back and there were cartridges in the magazine, the weapon would continue to fire.

Cartridges were held in a 20-round magazine that was quickly replaceable when emptied. In fact, it was easier and quicker to change a BAR's 20-round magazine than it was to recharge with a stripper clip the nonreplaceable five-shot magazine of a Springfield rifle.

The BAR was commonly equipped with a bipod, two metal legs fixed to the barrel near the muzzle. They permitted accurate fire at great distance. And it had a well-earned reputation for reliability. The trouble was that at about sixteen pounds, it was twice as heavy as the Springfield rifle. The heavy weight, coupled with the recoil, meant that few men indeed could fire the BAR from the shoulder. Sergeant Johnston was one of them; and when he saw Sergeant Thomas McCoy, one of his first thoughts was that he was looking at somebody else who just might be able to do it.

"Your jacket says you made the Makin Island raid."

"I made the fucker, Sergeant."

"What'd you do?"

"I had a Boys." The Boys Rifle was developed by the Royal Army after World War I as an antitank weapon. It was a.55 caliber bolt-action rifle, which in size-it weighed thirty-six pounds was to the BAR what the BAR was to the Springfield. It was a weapon Sergeant Johnston admired as other men might admire a Rolls-Royce or a Renoir.

"You had a Boys? We're talking about the same weapon? A British.55 caliber Boys?"

"I had a fucking Boys," Sergeant McCoy said with quiet pride.

Sergeant Johnston had heard that Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson, who commanded the 2nd Raider Battalion, had authorized his men to arm themselves with any weapon they wished. This was the first proof he'd had of that.

"You do any good with it?"

"I shot up a fucking Jap airplane," McCoy replied. "Put a dozen rounds in the sonofabitch. It tried to take off, got fifty feet in the air, and fucking blew up." That would explain the Bronze Star for valor that Sergeant McCoy's records recorded, Sergeant Johnston realized. There was no mention of any specific act, but there wouldn't be if he had shot down an airplane with a Boys.

"I guess you can use a BAR all right, huh?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Off hand?" Very few men could fire the BAR off hand-in other words, standing up and holding the BAR like a Springfield.

"Yeah, sure."

"Tell you what, McCoy," Sergeant Johnston said. "I got what you might call a provisional heavy weapons squad I think might be just the place for you."

"What's a provisional heavy weapons squad?"

"Twelve guys instead of eight. Two BARS. Two guys with Springfields.

The rest carry Thompsons and ammo bandoliers for the BARS."

"Yeah, maybe. I think I'd like that," McCoy replied.

Sergeant Johnston did not, however, take Sergeant McCoy at his word. He checked his knowledge of the BAR, which proved to be adequate, and then he tested his marksmanship with it. Sergeant McCoy turned out to be a fucking artist firing the BAR.

When Sergeant Johnston saw Sergeant McCoy walking across the beach at Tasimboko, his BAR suspended at waist height from his shoulder, trailed by two Marines loaded down with BAR magazines, firing the sonofabitch in two- and three shot bursts with all the finesse of a fucking violin player, he began to suspect that giving the provisional heavy weapons squad to Sergeant McCoy had been a correct command decision.

Twenty minutes later, when one of the ammo bearers returned in the dual role of ammunition replenishment and runner, there was proof positive:

"Sergeant McCoy took out a Jap outpost," the guy said "and then we took a Jap artillery battery. He wants to know what you want him to do now."

"Get your ass back up there and tell him to dig in. We're about to get some air support." Five minutes later the air support arrived. It consisted of those funny-looking Army Air Corps P-400 fighters, accompanied by Marine SBD bombers.

By the time the bombing and strafing ended, the transports had returned and landed the elements of the 1st Parachute Battalion. And so a general advance on the village was ordered.

It was necessary to ask for additional air support to drive the defenders from the village, but by quarter to ten it was secure.

The intelligence report of the ex-Coastwatcher Establishment Native Scouts proved to be accurate.

The Marines of the provisional battalion spent almost two hours destroying Japanese materiel, almost certainly recently landed. It included several landing craft, one 37mm cannon (McCoy had captured it early on), four 75mm cannon, radios, and large stocks of ammunition and medical supplies.

At 1230 hours, the Marines were ordered to return to the beach to reboard the transports. They took with them two of their own dead and six wounded. They left behind twenty-seven dead Japanese and an uncounted number of Japanese wounded.

Lieutenant Colonel "Red Mike" Edson stood at the sandbagged entrance to the command post of the Commanding General, First Marine Division, until General Alexander Archer Vandergrift sensed his presence. When Vandergrift looked at him, Edson saluted, and then went into the CP.

"How did it go, Mike?"

"Two KIA, six WIA, two seriously."

"I'm sorry."

"The Native Scouts were right, Sir."

"They usually are."

"We destroyed a large amount of materiel. Here's a list, Sir." He handed the list to Vandergrift, who read it and then looked at him.

"Large quantities of medical supplies would seem to indicate a large force, wouldn't you say?"

"Yes, Sir. And that much ammo translates to a lot of weapons, too, Sir. I took what documentation I could find to G-2 to get it translated, but there's no question in my mind that what we captured was not what the Japanese here took with them into the boondocks when we landed." Vandergrift nodded but did not reply.

"There's several thousand Japs in that area, General. What I don't understand is why they didn't attack us."

"Conservation of force for future action is often a wise choice," Vandergrift said. "I would guess that after he saw, how you landed your force in two segments, the Japanese commander decided that you didn't intend to stay. Therefore there was no point in expending assets to throw you back in the sea."

"Yes, Sir."

"He can better use those assets here," Vandergrift said, pointing to the map. "Either trying to knock Henderson Field out of operation, or even taking it. I don't like those 75mm cannon. If you captured four, I think we better count on a lot more."

"Yes, Sir. I thought about that."

"Take a look at this, Mike," Vandergrift said, and handed him a sheet of paper with TOP SECRET stamped on it top and bottom.

"`The operation to surround and recapture Guadalcanal will truly decide the fate of the control of the entire Pacific,'" Edson read aloud.

"From Lieutenant General Harukichi Hyakutake to the 17th Army," Vandergrift said. "Odd how the minds of brilliant men run in the same paths, isn't it, Mike?"

"May I ask where you got this, Sir?"

"No, you may not."

"General, there's a rumor going around that we've broken the Japanese codes."

"Mike, you've got a major flaw," Vandergrift said coldly.

"You don't know how to take no for an answer."

"Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir."

"You can consider this an order, Colonel. You will tell no one, repeat, no one, that I showed you that document."

"Aye, aye, Sir." Vandergrift met Edson's eyes long enough to convince him that he had made his point, paused long enough to curse himself for showing him the MAGIC intercept in the first place, and then allowed his facial muscles to relax.

"So how were the men?"

"They're tired, General, and I think undernourished."

Vandergrift nodded.

Are you putting anyone in for a decoration?"

"No, Sir," Edson said. "There were no `conspicuous acts of gallantry' that I know about. Maybe later. But I am going to make one buck sergeant a staff sergeant."

"What did he do?"

"Well, I was up pretty close to the line when we got our air support-which was right on the money, General-"

"I'm glad to hear that."

"-and when the strafing and bombing lifted, I looked around, and marching down this little path in the boondocks was this great big guy with a BAR. He had it suspended from his neck and was firing it from the hip. He had two Marines with spare magazines running to keep up with him. And he was smiling from ear to ear. It looked like a World War One movie with Douglas Fairbanks."

"Really?"

"I figure any man who can smile when he's hauling a BAR around deserves to be a staff sergeant."

"I concur, Colonel," Vandergrift said with a smile.

[Four]

THE FOSTER LAFAYETTE HOTEL

WASHINGTON, D.C.

0755 HOURS 9 SEPTEMBER 1942

Captain Edward L. Sessions, USMC, was standing inside the lobby of the hotel when the LaSalle convertible pulled up at the curb.

He quickly put his brimmed cap on and walked to the curb, reaching it just as the doorman pulled the car door open.

"Good morning," he said. "Let me get in the back." There were three people in the front seat, two of whom he knew, Lieutenants McCoy and Moore. The man he had come to see, Private George Hart, was at the wheel.

McCoy slid forward on the seat, permitting Sessions to squeeze into the back.

All three of them looked as if they had driven through the night, which was of course the case.

"Let's go somewhere and get a cup of coffee," Sessions said, sitting on the forward edge of the rear seat, trying to get a better look at Hart.

"Turn right on Pennsylvania Avenue," McCoy ordered.

"There's a place we can go a couple of blocks away."

"Aye, aye, Sir," Hart replied.

He was very much aware that in the normal course of events he should have been on the drill field at Parris Island at this hour, not at the wheel of a LaSalle convertible, driving past the White House.

"Long ride?" Sessions asked.

"You said it," McCoy said, "and we ran into a patriotic Virginia highway cop who took this new 35-mph speed limit very seriously. He said he was really surprised that Marines of all people, they should know better-would be speeding."

"Get a ticket?"

"No." McCoy chuckled. "Hart still had his badge. Professional courtesy. He let us go."

"You were a detective, I understand, Hart?"

"Yes, Sir."

"How are you, Moore?"

"Fine, Sir."

"He is not," McCoy said. "I should not have let him talk me into taking him out of the hospital."

"I'm all right, Sir," Moore said.

"Congratulations on the gold bar," Sessions said.

"Thank you," Moore said.

"We got you a linguist, Captain. Just one."

"I thought there were supposed to be three?" "

Two didn't speak a word of Japanese," McCoy said.

"Anybody else?"

"Couple of radio operators. The trip was really a waste of time."

"Are you including Private Hart in that?"

"Isn't that why you wanted to meet us? To make that decision?" McCoy asked.

"I thought it would be a good idea to talk to Hart before we take him to see General Pickering," Sessions said. "I wasn't questioning your judgment, Ken, I just thought it would be a good idea for me-"

"I know, to talk to him," McCoy said.

"Are you going to tell me why I am annoying you, or am I supposed to just sit here and suffer in silence?" Sessions said sharply.

"I'm pissed at me, Captain," McCoy said. "When Moore got out of bed this morning correction: yesterday morning he passed out."

"I told you, I slipped," Moore interrupted.

"He passed out and fell down... hit his leg on a dresser drawer and opened his goddamned wound. And when they took a look at him at the dispensary, they wanted to keep him.

"I had a hell of a time getting him out."

"I'm all right," Moore insisted.

"Do you think we should take him to Bethesda?" Sessions asked.

"Sir, I would prefer to go back to Philadelphia," Moore said.

"I should never have taken you out of Philadelphia," McCoy said.

"OK," Sessions said. "Lieutenant Moore, you will return to the Naval Hospital at Philadelphia and you will stay there until properly discharged by competent medical authority. Understand?" Moore nodded.

"Lieutenant, when an officer receives an order from a superior officer, the expected response is, `Aye, aye, Sir."

"Aye, aye, Sir."

"What the hell's the matter with you, John? You were seriously wounded," Sessions said, far more gently.

"Sir, I'm all right. I'm a little weak, that's all."

"You up to driving to Philadelphia? Or should I make other arrangements?"

"I can ride in a car, Sir."

"There it is," McCoy said. "Make the next right, Hart."

"You guys have your breakfast?" Sessions asked.

"We stopped in Richmond," McCoy said. "But I could have something. Coffee and a doughnut anyway."

"I called General Pickering after you called me yesterday," Sessions said. "He said we could bring Hart by at eight this morning. But when I called from the lobby, there was no answer. I guess he's still asleep. If it makes you feel any better, Lieutenant Moore, neither one of you should be out of the hospital."

"Yes, Sir."

"So there will be time for me to talk a little to Private Hart, and then we'll go see the General. Give him another hour in bed." An hour later, when Captain Sessions called on the house phone in the lobby of the Foster Lafayette Hotel, there was no answer from Senator Richmond F. Fowler's suite.

"Wait here," Sessions ordered, and then modified that.

"You go sit down, Moore, over there. I'm going to check with the desk and see if he left a message." There was no message at the desk.

"I don't like this," Sessions said to McCoy. "I think we'd better see if we can get somebody to let us into the suite."

Hart said, "I've got a sort of master key for hotel rooms, if you'd like me to try."

"I told you," McCoy said, smiling, "that Hart would be useful."

"Let's see if your key works, Hart," Sessions said.

There was a Do Not Disturb card hanging from the doorknob of the Fowler suite.

"Fowler's in Chicago," Sessions said. "Pickering told me when I called him." Hart pushed the Do Not Disturb card out of the way and applied his "key"-the blade of a pocketknife ground square and flat-to the crack in the door. He then pushed the door open and stood back to let Sessions enter.

In the sitting room were the remnants of Fleming Pickering's room service dinner, including the wheeled cart and an empty quart of scotch.

Sessions, with McCoy on his heels, went quickly to Pickering's bedroom.

When they opened the door, the foul smell of human waste met them.

Fleming Pickering, wearing only a sleeveless undershirt, made a failed attempt to pull a sheet over him.

"My God!" Sessions said.

"I seem to be a little under the weather," Fleming Pickering said weakly.

McCoy went to the bed and made an instant diagnosis: "Malaria," he said.

"You think that's what it is, Ken?" Pickering asked.

"Sweating, freezing? You can't control your bowels"" McCoy asked.

"Yes. Made a hell of a mess, haven't I?"

"We've got to get him out of that bed," Hart said matter-of-factly. "In addition to the mess he's made, it's soaking wet."

"There's at least one more bedroom," Sessions said.

"You two get him on his feet," Hart ordered, "and I'll clean him up.

Then we'll move him."

"Moore," Sessions ordered, "get on the horn and get the house physician up here. And then call the dispensary at Eighth and Eye and have them send an ambulance over here. An ambulance and a doctor."

"The dispensary where?" Moore asked.

"At Marine Barracks. The number will be in the phone book," Sessions said.

"No," Pickering said, as McCoy and Sessions bent over the bed to pick him up. "Moore, don't call the dispensary. Just the house doctor. His name is Selleres. He can take care of me."

"Call the dispensary, Moore," Sessions ordered.

"Goddamn it, Captain," Pickering said furiously. "I said no

"Do what the General says, Moore," Sessions said after a moment's hesitation.

Hart came out of the bathroom with wet towels and wiped the waste from Pickering's groin area and from his legs.

"God, that's disgusting, something like this," Pickering said.

"Don't be silly, General," Hart said. "Women do it to their babies three, four times a day."

"Christ!" Pickering said.

"Where's the other bedroom?" Hart asked.

"Down the corridor somewhere, I suppose," Sessions said.

Then, with Pickering suspended between them, he and McCoy carried Pickering out of the room.

Hart went ahead of them into the other bedroom and had the covers ripped off one of its twin beds before they dragged Pickering in.

"We've got to get some fluid in him," McCoy said. "He's dehydrated."

"Do you know what you're doing, McCoy?" Sessions asked.

"This isn't the first malaria I've seen." They lowered Pickering into the bed. Hart covered him with a blanket.

"A minute ago I was sweating," Pickering said. "Now, goddamn it, I'm freezing!" His body shook with shivering under the blanket. Hart ripped the bedspread and a blanket from the other twin bed and laid it over him.

"Doctor Sellers is on his way," Moore announced from the door.

"Selleres, " Pickering corrected him. His, teeth chattered.

"Yes, Sir," Moore said.

"What the hell are you doing out of the hospital?" Pickering demanded.

"About the same thing you are, General," McCoy said.

"Making things a hell of a lot worse."

Dr. Selleres appeared a minute or two later, and immediately confirmed McCoy's diagnosis and immediate treatment.

"Somebody get General Pickering a glass of water," he ordered.

"The water here is undrinkable," Pickering said. "There should be some ginger ale."

"OK, ginger ale. Have you been nauseous?"

"No, but I have had a first-class display of diarrhea."

"The ginger ale may make you nauseous."

"I'll take my chances, thank you," Pickering said. "And aside from ginger ale, what can you do for me?"

"Well, the first thing we do is get you into an ambulance and into a hospital,"

"No."

"You have to go to the hospital, General. Period. No argument."

"Jesus Christ! Why can't you do what you have to do here?"

"Well, for one thing, Fleming, we don't have facilities to conduct an autopsy here, and unless you start behaving, that's the next medical procedure you'll need."

"Bullshit."

"No. No bullshit. The facts. How long have you been experiencing symptoms like these?"

"The diarrhea's new. And the goddamned weakness. But the hot and cold spells, a couple of days. Three maybe. Maybe four."

"And you've been treating yourself with aspirin and scotch, right?"

"I thought the scotch had given me the runs," Pickering said.

Hart appeared with a bottle of ginger ale and two glasses, one empty and one with ice.

"Here you are, Sir."

"That's liable to make you sick, Fleming," Dr. Selleres said.

"So you said," Pickering snapped, and then, "I don't have the goddamn strength to sit up." Hart went to him and held him in a sitting position. McCoy held the glass to his lips.

Sessions went into the sitting room and dialed a number from memory.

When Colonel Rickabee came on the line, he told him what was going on.

Then he went back into the bedroom.

"An ambulance is on the way," he said, "with a doctor and corpsmen. The General will be taken to Walter Reed Army Hospital, which has the best malaria treatment facilities in the area."

"You really think I need hospitalization, Emilio?" Pickering asked.

"Only if you want to live, Fleming," Dr. Selleres said.

"Hell!" Pickering said, and then shrugged. He looked at the people standing around his bed. "If I'm going back in the hospital, John, so are you. Can you arrange that, Sessions?"

"It's already been arranged, Sir. He's going in your ambulance."

"McCoy, will you telephone Mrs. Pickering and make sure she doesn't get hysterical when she hears about this?"

"Yes, Sir, if you want me to."

"I'll call her, Fleming," Dr. Selleres said. "If I don't, she'll call me." Pickering ignored him. He looked at Private George Hart.

"You've just had one hell of an introduction to a prospective boss, son.

I would certainly understand why you wouldn't want to work for me."

"Do I have a choice, Sir?"

"Yes, of course, you do."

"I think I'd like very much to work for you, Sir." Pickering didn't reply for a moment. Then he said, "Sessions, Moore told me that when you snatched him out of Parris Island you made him an overnight sergeant. And he didn't even have to wipe an officer's ass. Can you do as much for this young man?"

"Yes, Sir. If that is the General's desire, Private Hart will be a sergeant before noon."

"That is the General's desire," Pickering said. Then he looked at Dr. Emilio Selleres. "I hate to admit this, but you're right, you sonofabitch. I'm about to throw up."

"Roll over on your side, Fleming," Selleres said.

Outside, there was the wail of a siren.

"Do you suppose that's for me?" Pickering asked. "Or is that Roosevelt out for a morning drive?" And then he was shaken with chills and nausea.

Chapter Eight

[One]

THE PENTHOUSE THE ANDREW FOSTER HOTEL

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

0930 HOURS 9 SEPTEMBER 1942

"We could have eaten downstairs, you know," Andrew Foster said as he transferred two kippers from a crystal platter to his grandson's plate with all the skill and ‚lan of any of his first class waiters. Foster was in his sixties, tall and distinguished looking, with elegantly cut silver hair.

"The service isn't nearly as nice downstairs," Second Lieutenant Malcolm S. Pickering replied, adding, "thank you." `But on the other hand, I'm not nearly as pretty as any of the half-dozen young women I'm sure you would have found down there. " They were sitting at a glass-topped cast-iron table on the tiled terrace of the penthouse. A striped awning had been lowered enough to shade them from the morning sun, and mottled glass panels in steel frames had been rolled into place to shield them from the wind.

"But they couldn't possibly smell as good as you do," Pick said. "What is that you're wearing?"

"Something your mother gave me. I thought she might come with you, so I bit the bullet and sprayed some on."

"Very nice."

"Perhaps for a French gigolo," Foster said.

"Maybe a little strong." Pick chuckled.

"The last time I had some on, a gentleman of exquisite grace, inhaling rapturously, followed me across the lobby," the old man said, "thinking he'd found the love of his life."

Pick laughed. "It's not that bad."

"I'd be happy to give you what's left of the bottle."

"Thank you, but no thank you," Pick said.

A waiter came to the table and picked up a silver-collar orange juice pitcher.

"More juice, Mr. Pickering?"

"No, thank you," Pick said.

"Have some more," the old man said. "I rather doubt where you're going that freshly squeezed orange juice will be on the menu."

"Point well taken, Sir," Pick said. "Yes, please, Fred."

"Speaking of where you're going, you haven't said where or when?"

"I report to Mare Island on the thirteenth. I'm headed for VMF-229. I'm not supposed to know, but I do. It's on Guadalcanal."

"What is... what you said?"

"VMF-229. It's a fighter squadron."

"Do you feel qualified to go, Pick?"

"I think I'm a pretty good pilot."

"I'm sure you are."

"On the other hand, I sometimes think my ego is running away with me," Pick confessed. "I guess I'll just have to wait and see."

"I had an interesting chat, a while back, with a Marine pilot."

"There must be fifteen or twenty in the bar every night," Pick said.

"This was an interesting chap. I had him and his lady to dinner up here. With your mother."

"His `lady'?"

"Well, she was a lady. I liked her and so did your mother, but came out that their relationship had not yet culminated in holy matrimony."

"Illicit cohabitation? In the Andrew Foster? Shocking! And the innkeeper had them to dinner? With my mother?"

"Yes, and the innkeeper was very glad that he did. He told me all about your training. I understood at least twenty percent of what he told me.

And I think he managed to alleviate some of your mother's concerns-"

"Which is why you had him to dinner, right?"

"Certainly. He was a very impressive man. On his way to the Pacific.

Galloway was his name. He said he was to be a squadron commander."

"I don't know the name," Pick said.

"He didn't know yours, either," the old man said. "I asked." The telephone rang.

"Take that, Fred, will you, please?" the old man said. "And remind the operator that I said I didn't want any calls." The waiter went inside, and Pick could hear him speaking softly on the phone. Then, to his surprise, he reappeared on the terrace, telephone in hand. He plugged it in and handed it to Andrew Foster.

"The inn better be on fire, Fred," the old man said as he took the telephone.

"I thought you had better take it, Mr. Foster."

"This is Andrew Foster.

"No, Mrs. Pickering is not here.

"I'm afraid I have no idea where she is."

"She said she would be at the office from about eleven," Pick said.

"What is that?" The old man handed him the phone.

"Who is this, please?" Pick asked.

"My name is McCoy, Sir. I'm a Marine officer."

"From what I hear, you're a flaming disgrace to the goddamn Marine Corps," Pick said cheerfully.

There was a moment's hesitation, then the caller asked, "Is that you, Pick?"

"How the hell are you, you ugly bastard?"

"Pick, I'm calling from Walter Reed. Your dad's in here."

"Jesus, now what?"

"He's going to be all right. I waited until they gave him a... Colonel Rickabee just got the word from the doctors."

"Who's he?"

"He works for your father."

"So what's going on?"

"Your father has malaria. I went to his room in the hotel this morning and found him too weak to even sit up. He's been treating himself with scotch and aspirin. But he's going to be all right. He made me promise to call your mother and see what I could do to calm her down. I called all over, and finally somebody at your house-Talbot, something like that-gave me this number."

"Mother's butler," Pick said. "It's my grandfather's number. That was him on the phone before."

"OK. So what I know is this: He has malaria. There's two kinds, intestinal, and-I forget what they call it, in the brain.

That's really bad news. He has intestinal. That's not as bad.

What it does is give you chills and fever, and you lose control of your bowels, and you throw up a lot."

"That's not bad, huh?"

"It dehydrates you. He was in pretty bad shape when we found him. But we got him in the hospital, and they're giving him stuff to kill the malaria, and they're putting fluid in him.

He's going to be all right."

"Define `all right,' " Pick said.

"He's sick. He's weak, and embarrassed."

"What do you mean, embarrassed? What the hell's he got to be embarrassed about?"

"He... shit his bed. We had to wash him like a baby."

"God!"

"He said I was to tell your mother there was no need for her to do anything foolish, like come to Washington."

"Which means she will be on the next plane. We will be on the first plane."

"You better think about that," McCoy said. "You're supposed to be at Mare Island on the thirteenth."

"How do you know that?"

"I checked. Actually, you're supposed to be in Pensacola. What was that all about?"

"I had originally... " Pick said, and stopped. "What the hell does it matter?"

"I called all over Pensacola for you. I finally got some Admiral's wife on the phone, and she told me you were on your way to San Francisco." The Admiral's wife was Mrs. Richard B. Sayre, mother Mrs. Martha Sayre Culhane. Upon learning that Lieutenant Pickering was headed for the Pacific, Martha had been even more determined than ever not to marry him. Martha had said it so often he had no choice but to believe her.

She could not go through again what she'd already gone through. She couldn't wait around for the inevitable telegram from the Secretary of the Navy expressing his deep regret that her husband had been lost in aerial combat against the forces of the Empire of Japan.

"There's no way you could come here and get back out there by the thirteenth," McCoy said.

"I could get an emergency leave," Pick said.

"Yeah, you probably could," McCoy said. There was a hint of disgust in his voice.

"Meaning what?"

"Meaning you're a Marine officer, and you have your orders. There's nothing you could do for your father here except embarrass him by showing up."

"Fuck you, Ken!" Pick flared, but then immediately: "Shit. I'm sorry. You're right, of course."

"Look, he's sick, but in a couple of weeks, a month, he's going to be all right, OK?"

"That's the straight poop?"

"That's straight."

"You going to see him?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Tell him... You know what to tell him."

"Yeah. Sure. You'll tell your mother?"

"I'll tell her and she'll come."

"He won't like that."

"Yes, he will, and besides, there's nothing he can do about "OK."

"Thanks for... everything, I guess, Ken."

"Take care of yourself, pal."

"You, too." The line went dead.

Pick held the phone in his hand for a long moment before dropping it into the cradle. Then he raised his eyes and found his grandfather's eyes on him.

"That was Ken McCoy. We went to OCS at Quantico together." The old man nodded.

"You understood what that was all about?"

"Some of it."

"Dad's in Walter Reed Hospital with malaria. He's apparently pretty sick, but in no danger."

"I gather we should see about getting your mother on an airplane?"

"Just Mother. It was just pointed out to me that I do not have time to go to see him."

"I will take your mother to see him and tell him why you couldn't be there. Is there anything else I can do, Pick?" Pick raised both hands helplessly.

"What?" he asked.

[Two]

TEMPORARY BUILDING T-2032

THE MALL WASHINGTON, D.C.

1630 HOURS 9 SEPTEMBER 1942

When First Lieutenant Kenneth R. McCoy pushed open the outer door of the two-story frame building, he noticed a new sign, USMC OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT ANALYSIS, nailed to the side of the building. Previously, there had been no sign at all. Since that made Building T-2032 even more anonymous among the other identical "temporary" frame buildings-they had been there since the First World War-he wondered why Colonel Rickabee had decided to hang a sign.

As he took the stairs to the second floor two at a time, he decided that some brass hat with nothing better to do had probably issued an edict that all buildings would be properly labeled.

It had probably occupied the better part of his time for a month, McCoy mused, first coming up with the idea, and then deciding in precise detail the size of the sign, and of its lettering, and its color.

As he reached the second floor, he remembered that a bird colonel and his entourage had been sharing the building.

He was charged with coordinating enlisted morale projects with the Army and Navy, or some such bullshit. I wonder why he doesn't have a sign?

At the top of the stairwell was a small foyer. Access to the rest of the building was barred by a counter; wire mesh went in the countertop to the ceiling.

McCoy recognized one of the two staff noncoms behind the barrier.

"Open up, Rutterman," he said.

Technical Sergeant Harry Rutterman, who had first come to know Lieutenant McCoy as a just-graduated-from-Quantico second lieutenant, threw up his hands in horror.

"Sir, these are classified premises," he said. "Will you please state the nature of your business and show me your identification?"

"You're kidding."

"Not at all, Sir. Less than an hour ago, our beloved commanding officer passed through these portals without challenge, and then ate my ass out for letting him in."

"Really?"

"I think you are next on his menu, Lieutenant, if you don't mind my saying so," Rutterman said. "He left word that he wants to see you as soon as you came in." McCoy extended his identification, a leather folder holding a badge and a photo identification card.

"Pass, friend," Rutterman said, as he pushed a button which operated a solenoid that unlocked a wire mesh door. "And good luck!"

"If I wasn't an officer and a gentleman, Harry, I'd tell you to take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut," McCoy said as he walked past him.

Colonel F. L. Rickabee's office was at the corner of the far end of the building. Its door was closed. McCoy knocked and said, "McCoy, Sir."

"Come!" McCoy opened the door, marched in, and stood to attention before Rickabee's desk, even though Rickabee was in civilian clothing.

"Moore?" Rickabee asked.

"He's all right, Sir. It was exhaustion more than anything else."

"Taking him out of the hospital was stupid, McCoy."

"Yes, Sir. No excuse, Sir."

"Sessions told me that General Pickering ordered you to get in touch with his wife." It was a question more than a statement.

"Yes, Sir. I was unable to reach Mrs. Pickering, but I spoke with his son, Sir."

"That's right, you know him, don't you?"

"We were in OCS together, Sir."

"Where's this man Hart?"

"At the hotel, Sir. I didn't know what to do with him. I was going to ask if you wanted to see him."

"I'll have to go on what Sessions and you feel," Rickabee said "I'll want to see him when he comes back."

"Sir?" Rickabee handed him a large manila envelope. McCoy opened it. It contained airline tickets and a sheaf of mimeographed orders.

HEADQUARTERS

UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

WASHINGTON, D.C.

9 September 1942

LETTER ORDERS:

To: SGT Hart, George F 386751, USMCR

Company "A"

Marine Barracks

Washington, DC

1. You will proceed this date to San Francisco, Cal., St. Louis, Mo., and such other

destinations as may be necessary in carrying out the mission assigned to you by the Office of Management Analysis, Hq USMC.

2. Travel by government and civilian rail, motor and air transportation is authorized.

Priority AAA.

3. A five (5) day delay en route leave is authorized in connection with these orders.

BY DIRECTION OF BRIG GEN F. PICKERING:

F. L. Rickabee, Col, USMC

Executive Officer, Office of Management Analysis

I'll be damned He's sending Hart out there to tell Pick his father'll be all right, McCoy thought.

He blurted what popped into his mind: "That was very nice of you, Sir."

" `Nice' is not one of my character traits, McCoy," Colonel Rickabee said. "One: I think it important that your man Hart understand just who he will be working for. His initial introduction to the General was something less than inspiring. Seeing what he did in civilian life, who he was, will be instructional. Two: I think it is important that General Pickering knows that we think of him as one of our own. Three: Sergeant Hart is entitled to an end of boot-camp leave; and he won't be needed around here anyway for ten days, possibly more."

Bullshit-that was nice of you!

"Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir. I know that, Sir."

"I would hate to think you were being sarcastic, McCoy."

"Not me, Sir."

"Sessions tells me you told him Mrs. Pickering will be coming to Washington."

"Yes, Sir. I think she will."

"Keep me advised of her schedule. I'd like to meet her plane, or train, whatever."

"Yes, Sir."

"General Pickering, McCoy, can be very valuable to us around here. It thus behooves us to do whatever we can for him."

Bullshit again, Colonel. You like Pickering. You're two of a kind "Yes, Sir."

"Get out of here, McCoy."

"Yes, Sir."

[Three]

MUNICIPAL AIRPORT

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

1530 HOURS II SEPTEMBER 1942

When Hart entered the terminal after leaving the Transcontinental and Western (TWA) DC-3 that brought him from Chicago, with a stop at Salt Lake City, two shore patrolmen were standing in the middle of the airport aisle. One was a sailor armed with a billy club, and the other was a Marine sergeant, wearing a.45 suspended from a white web belt.

Neither of them looks like much of a cop, former Detective George Hart decided, and then dismissed them from his mind as he headed for a row of telephone booths.

Lieutenant McCoy had given him four telephone numbers for Lieutenant Pickering: the Pickering home, in Marin County; the offices of Pacific and Far East Shipping, in San Francisco; the San Francisco apartment of Mrs. Fleming Pickering; and the Andrew Foster Hotel. If he called the last number, he was instructed to ask for Mr. Andrew Foster, stating he was a friend of Lieutenant Pickering.

His orders were to tell Lieutenant Pickering, without any bullshit, General Pickering's condition when they went into the bedroom of the Foster Lafayette Hotel, and then to tell him that the prognosis was good and that his coming to Washington would have only embarrassed his father.

"Tell Lieutenant Pickering he's doing the right thing by not coming," Lieutenant McCoy said. "And, if you have to, that I wouldn't lie to him. And tell him to call me just before he gets on his plane, and I'll give him the latest poop." Hart had just taken the list of telephone numbers from his pocket and was about to drop a nickel in the pay phone slot, when there was a sharp rap on the telephone booth window.

It was the sailor shore patrolman. He made a sign with his index finger for Hart to come out of the booth.

"What can I do for you?" Hart asked.

"For one thing, you can show us your orders," the Marine sergeant said.

Hart produced a copy of the orders from the breast pocket of his tunic and handed them over.

The MP read them and showed them to the sailor.

"Anybody with a mimeograph machine could have made these up," he said.

"There's no stamp or seal or nothing."

"That thought occurred to me on the way out here," Hart said.

"Where did you get that haircut, Sergeant?" the Marine asked.

"Parris Island."

"Boots' hair usually grows back in before they make sergeant material ," the Marine said. "I think, Sergeant, that you better e with us until we can check out these orders." I was wrong. This guy's not as dumb as he looks. He picked up on the Parris Island haircut.

"How about this, Sergeant?" Hart said, and handed him the leather folder holding the badge identifying him as a Special Agent of the Office of Naval Intelligence and the accompanying photo identification card.

"I'll be damned," the sergeant said. "Sorry."

"No problem. It was the haircut, right?"

"Yeah, and there's two inspection stickers hanging out on the back of your jacket," the Marine said. "So I checked."

"I understand."

"Could I ask you a question?"

"Sure."

"How do you get a billet like that? It would sure be better than standing around an airport all day looking for AWOLs and drunks."

"I really don't know," Hart replied. "That's where they sent me when I got out of Parris Island. I used to be a cop. But I didn't apply for it or anything like that."

"It would sure beat standing around this fucking airport," the Marine repeated, and then smiled and walked off.

Hart went back into the telephone booth and struck out with the first three numbers. After three intermediate people came on the line, the fourth call was finally answered: "Andrew Foster." Jesus, I'm actually talking to the guy who owns all those hotels!

"Mr. Foster, my name is Sergeant Hart. I'm trying to locate Lieutenant Malcolm S. Pickering."

"Perhaps I could help you."

"Sir, I really would like to speak to Lieutenant Pickering. It's about his father."

"Is this bad news, Sergeant?"

"No, Sir. The opposite. I was with General Pickering when... just before we took him to the hospital. I've been asked to tell Lieutenant Pickering about that. And how the General is doing now."

"I'd be very much interested in hearing what you have to say, Sergeant," Andrew Foster said, "if that's possible. General Pickering is my son-in-law."

After a moment's hesitation, Hart delivered a slightly laundered report of the events in the hotel room, and then the prognosis the doctors at Walter Reed had offered complete recovery after three to six weeks of rest in the hospital.

"I'm sure my grandson will be delighted to hear this, Sergeant. He's been climbing the walls around here the last couple of days. The problem would seem to be getting you together. Where are you?"

"At the airport, Sir."

"At the passenger terminal?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Across the field from the passenger terminal is Hangar 103," Andrew Foster said. "It says `Lewis Flying Services' on it. My grandson should be there. He should be somewhere around my airplane. If he is not, call me back here. I'll either know where he is by then, or we can launch a manhunt together."

"Yes, Sir. Thank you very much."

"Sergeant, am I permitted to ask your connection with General Pickering?" After a brief hesitation, Hart decided to answer this question, too.

"Sir, I've been assigned to look after General Pickering."

"Somehow I don't think that means you're his valet, or orderly, or whatever they call it."

"No, Sir."

"If my grandson's not there, call me, Sergeant."

"Yes, Sir." There was little activity inside Hangar 103, and no one in Marine uniform. But a young man with a bored look was leaning against the hangar wall next to a battery charger. He was wearing oil-stained khaki trousers and an oil-stained T-shirt under a cotton zipper jacket. His tan and his haircut suggested he was no stranger to military service.

Me and Sherlock Holmes in the airport.

"Excuse me, Sir," Hart said. "I'm looking for Lieutenant Pickering."

"You found him," Pick said.

Hart saluted. "Sergeant Hart, Sir. I work for Lieutenant McCoy, Sir."

Pick did not return the salute.

"OK," he said, his voice even but tense. "No beating around the bush. Let's have it."

"Your father will be all right. They will keep him in the hospital for three to six weeks of rest and treatment. From what I have seen of your father, I'd bet on three weeks."

"Jesus Christ, that's a relief. When you said McCoy had sent you, I was really worried."

"My orders, Sir, are to tell you exactly what happened."

"Go ahead." When he had finished, Pick said, "Thank you, Sergeant." There was a moment's silence, and then Pick asked, "They sent you all the way out here to tell me this?"

"Yes, Sir."

"What's your connection with my father?"

"I work for him, Sir."

"Doing what?"

"Whatever he tells me to do, Sir."

"In other words you're not going to tell me. But since you have told me you work for McCoy, it wouldn't be unreasonable for me to assume, would it, that you're also involved-suitably draped in a cape-in all those mysterious things McCoy does but won't talk about?" Hart didn't reply. When it was evident to Pick that he wasn't going to reply, he went on, "I'll rephrase, Sergeant. Would it be unreasonable of me to assume that you are not my father's orderly?"

"I'm not your father's orderly, Sir."

"OK, we'll leave it at that. So what are you going to do now?"

"I have a plane reservation for tomorrow afternoon, Sir."

"Nothing to do right now? How about a hotel reservation?"

"No, Sir."

"Well, we can take care of that, the hotel, I mean."

"That's not necessary, Sir."

"I'll make you a deal, Sergeant. You do two things for me, and I will take care of the hotel and throw in dinner and all the booze you can handle."

"My orders are to do whatever you ask me to do, Sir."

"Great. The first thing is, stop calling me `Sir." The second thing is, help me get this heavy fucking battery back in the airplane. I almost ruptured myself taking it out." Hart knew very little about airplanes, but when he had walked across the hangar floor to meet Lieutenant Pickering, he noticed a single-engine biplane he recognized as a Stagger Wing Beechcraft. A compartment hatch in the fuselage was open.

Obviously, the battery Pickering was now disconnecting from the battery charger had come out of it.

"Why did you take the battery out?"

Pickering looked at him with amusement in his eyes. "It was dead, Sergeant," he said. "One recharges dead batteries. It resurrects them, so to speak."

"I meant, why recharge it, Sir."

"You've agreed not to call me Sir," Pick said. "Which brings us to what do I call you?"

"My name is George."

"Well, George, the reason I am recharging the battery is that this is my grandpa's airplane. Most light civilian aircraft like this one have been taken over by the armed forces, for reasons I can't imagine. This one, however, Grandpa got to keep because it was essential to his business. Or at least he got our Senator to tell the Air Corps it was essential to his business. He and our Senator, by happy coincidence, are old pals. By the time they had gone through all this, the pilots had gone into the Army Air Corps. You following all this?"

"More or less," Hart said, smiling.

"More or less, Pick, " Pick corrected him. "You will call me Pick. That is an order."

"Yes, Pick."

"Which left the airplane here unattended, so to speak. Airplanes which are left uncared for tend to deteriorate. The batteries, for example, go dead, and the tires go flat, et cetera.

Still with me, George?"

"Yes, Pick," Hart said.

"Better. So Grandpa, who is a master, by the way, of getting people to do things for him, remembered that the U.S. Navy, at enormous expense, had turned his grandchild into a Naval Aviator. Naval Aviators, Grandpa reasoned, know something about airplanes."

"And he said, `Go check on my airplane,' right?"

"Right. And so I pumped up the tires and took the water that had condensed in the fuel tanks out of the fuel tanks, and pulled the engine around to remove the oil that had accumulated in the cylinders. It was my intention to run up the engine, you see. Running up the engine is something one does when one's airplane has been sitting around."

"And the battery was dead," Hart said.

"And the battery was dead. George, you are a clever fellow, indeed."

"Yes, Pick."

Pick laughed.

"Give me a hand with this, will you?" The battery wasn't all that heavy, but putting it in its battery compartment was awkward. Hart wondered how Pickering had managed to take it out. Finally it was in place, and connected.

"Now we will open the hangar doors and push the airplane outside," Pick announced.

The huge doors of the hangar moved with an ease that surprised Hart. Pushing the Stagger Wing Beechcraft was easier than he would have thought, too, but obviously one man couldn't do it.

"What were you going to do if I hadn't turned up? You couldn't push it by yourself."

"Run it up in the hangar, of course," Pick said.

"Wouldn't the-wind from the propeller-"

"We Naval Aviators call that `prop blast,' " Pick furnished helpfully.

-prop blast have blown things around the hangar?"

"I don't know," Pick said. "I never ran an engine up in a hangar. "

This guy is a cheerful idiot, Hart decided. And then modified that: a nice cheerful idiot.

When the airplane was outside and turned at right angles to the hangar, Pickering opened another compartment in the fuselage and took out a fire extinguisher.

"You know how to work one of these?" he asked. Hart nodded. "Maybe we will be lucky," Pick went on, "but if there is a cloud of smoke and flames, you will extinguish them using this clever device. Think you can remember that?"

"Right, Pick."

"Do not stand where the propeller turns," Pick ordered solemnly.

"Getting whacked with a propeller stings."

"Right, Pick." Pickering pulled the engine through several times and then climbed into the cockpit. Hart saw him moving around inside, but he had no idea what he was doing.

The window beside Pickering opened.

"Clear!" he shouted, and now he sounded very professional.

Hart picked up the fire extinguisher, wondering if he would have to use it.

There was a whining sound, and then the propeller began to turn, very slowly. The engine coughed and stopped. A small cloud of dark smoke came out of the exhaust ports.

The whining of the starter began again, and then the propeller moved through several rotations as the engine coughed, burped smoke and died again.

It is not going to start, Hart decided, as he watched Pickering's head disappear as he moved around the cockpit.

The whining started again, the propeller turned, the engine coughed, coughed again, discharged an enormous cloud of smoke, and then caught with a mighty roar and began to run.

Hart could see a delighted smile on Pickering's face.

After a few moments the roughness disappeared.

I wonder how long it takes to-what did he say?-run up an engine?

He set the fire extinguisher on the ground and looked up at the cockpit.

Pickering was shaking his head and making gestures. After a moment Hart understood them: he was not to put the fire extinguisher down, but to get into the airplane with it.

Hart made a wide sweep around the wing and went to the fuselage door. It was closed.

The wind-the prop blast-blew it closed.

With some effort, he forced it open against the prop blast, laid the fire extinguisher on the floor, and then climbed aboard.

The prop blast slammed the door closed. He looked at the door, saw a handle that locked the door, and turned it.

Then he walked to the cockpit. He was surprised at how much room the airplane had-there were four passenger seats-and how Plush it was. The seats were upholstered in light-brown leather, and the walls and ceiling were covered with it.

Pickering motioned for him to sit in the second seat in the cockpit. It was George Hart's first visit to a cockpit and he found the array of dials and levers and controls both fascinating and intimidating.

Pickering showed him how to fasten the lap and shoulder mess, and then handed him a set of earphones.

"The intercom button, I just found out," Pickering's metallic voice came over the earphones, "is that little button on the side of the microphone. Can you hear me?" Hart looked at Pickering and saw he had a microphone in his hand. And then Pickering pointed to a second microphone beside Hart. Hart had finally found something recognizable.

The microphone was essentially identical to the ones in Saint Louis police cars.

"What do you mean, you just found out?"

"I never sat up here before," Pickering said.

Bullshit!

There was a popping sound, and then Pickering's voice.

"Frisco Ground Control, Beech Two Oh Oh on the Lewis ramp."

"Beech Two Oh Oh, go ahead."

"Request taxi instructions to box my compass." What the hell does that mean?

"Beech Two Oh Oh is cleared via taxiway one three right to the threshold area of runway one three."

"Roger, thank you," Pickering's voice came over the earphones.

"Understand threshold area of one three. One three moving and clear."

Hart watched with fascination as Pickering released the brakes, advanced the throttle, and the airplane began to move.

He pressed his mike button.

"Where are we going?" There was another pop in the earphones.

"Aircraft calling Ground Control, say again."

"George," Pickering said, "don't talk into the intercom until I tell you you can. You are worrying Ground Control." Hart nodded. He had just revealed his enormous ignorance, and it humiliated him.

They taxied a long way to the end of the field. As they neared it, a United Airlines DC-3 came in for a landing. Hart found that fascinating.

He also found Pickering's next act fascinating. He moved the airplane to the center of a large concrete area and carefully jockeyed it into position. He then fiddled somehow with the compass. Then he moved the airplane again, and fiddled with the compass again, and then repeated the process.

"As you can see, I have now boxed the compass," he said.

Hart didn't reply.

"You may express your admiration, we're on intercom," Pickering said.

"I'm impressed. Now what?"

"I am debating whether or not I can fly this thing," Pickering said.

"How would you like a little ride, George?"

"What do you mean, whether or not you can fly this thing?"

"I told you. This is my first time sitting up here." Bullshit. He's pulling my leg.

"I have faith in a fellow Marine," Hart replied.

"How can I resist a challenge like that? Now shut up, George. We are going to talk to the tower." There was another pop in the earphones.

"Frisco tower, Beech Two Oh Oh on the threshold of one three for takeoff." Jesus, he is going to take me for a ride!

"Beech Two Oh Oh, what is your destination?"

"Couple of times around the pattern. Test flight."

"Beech Two Oh Oh, you are advised you are required to have a departure authorization."

"It's supposed to be there. You don't have it?" There was a long break.

"Beech Two Oh Oh. You are cleared as number one to take off on one three. The altimeter is two niner niner niner. Winds are negligible."

"Roger, Two Oh Oh rolling," Pickering said and moved the throttle forward.

He lined the airplane up with the center of the runway and pushed the throttle all the way forward.

The Beech quickly picked up speed, and a moment later the rumbling of the landing gear disappeared.

"Beech Two Oh Oh. We don't have your departure clearance."

"Frisco, say again, you are garbled."

"Beech Two Oh Oh, we do not, I say again, we do not have a departure clearance. You are directed to land immediately.

You are cleared as number one to land on runway one three."

"Frisco, say again, you are garbled." There was another pop in the earphones.

"George, you may now express your admiration for that splendid virginal takeoff."

"What the hell was the tower saying to you?"

"Essentially, it means I don't think we ought to go back there," Pickering said. "I think they take their departure clearances, whatever the hell that means, very seriously."

"Meaning you don't have one?"

"What are they going to do to me?" Pickering said. "Send me to Guadalcanal?"

"Jesus Christ, you're crazy!"

"I always wanted to fly this thing," Pickering said. "The temptation was too much. I have a very weak character."

"We're at war, for Christ's sake. They're going to shoot you down. Us down."

"I thought about that," Pickering replied. "By the time they get their act together and decide to report this to the military, at least fifteen minutes will have passed. By the time the Army or the Navy gets its act in gear and decides which one will get the honor of shooting down an unarmed civilian airplane, another twenty minutes or so will have passed. And then it will take them five minutes to get in the air and another ten minutes to find us. We've got damned near an hour."

"You are really out of your gourd!"

"And then it would take a real prick of a pilot to shoot down something as pretty as this airplane. I certainly wouldn't do it."

"Holy Christ!"

"That long thin thing down there over the mouth of the bay is the Golden Gate Bridge," Pickering said, pointing. Hart looked where he was pointing. "What I think we will do is fly very low over that away, then fly under the bridge-something I have always wanted to do-and then we will find home, sweet home."

"You have to be kidding."

"I am a Marine officer and a Naval Aviator. We never kid about important things."

"When you land this thing, they are going to put you in jail."

"First they have to catch me."

"I'm dead goddamn serious."

"So'm I," Pick said with a smile. "Relax and enjoy the ride." In addition of course to flying under the Golden Gate Bridge in the first place, what surprised Sergeant Hart about their flight was that he wasn't nearly as terrified as he expected to be.

There was plenty of room under the bridge. And Pick didn't seem nervous.

In fact, looking up out of the cockpit at the massive structure as it flashed overhead was both interesting and stimulating.

He was far more afraid five minutes later when it became apparent that Pickering was about to land the airplane on what was obviously not an airfield. It was a field, or an enormous lawn, but it was definitely not an airfield.

But there, goddammit, is one of those dunce caps on a pole.

What do they call them? Wind socks. Airports have wind socks.

This must be an airport.

A moment later the Beech touched down.

"Where the hell are we?"

"Home sweet home, my son," Pickering said solemnly. "As you may have noticed, we have cheated death again."

"Where the hell are we?"

"This is my parents' place."

"You have your own goddamned airport?"

"Plus a barn that can be used as a hangar," Pick said. "And into which, I devoutly hope, we can get this thing before the military spots us from the air."

"You better hope we can."

"I am always a pessimist," Pickering said. "But I think we got away with it this time, George."

"They're going to catch you eventually," Hart said.

"By then I'll be on Guadalcanal," Pickering said softly.

"And even if they do catch me, I will swear that I was alone.

So relax, George." Three minutes later they were closing the doors of a large barn.

[Four]

THE MEN'S BAR

THE ANDREW FOSTER HOTEL

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

1930 HOURS I I SEPTEMBER 1942

Wearing a superbly tailored double-breasted blue pinstripe suit with a rosebud pinned to his lapel, Andrew Foster walked into the bar and found what he was looking for, two young men in tweed sports coats, gray flannel slacks, white buttondown-collar shirts, and loafers. He walked to them.

"Good evening, gentlemen," he said. "I wondered if you had an opportunity to see the newspaper." He laid The San Francisco Chronicle on the bar.

"Good evening, Grandfather," Malcolm S. Pickering said.

"I know you've talked to George on the telephone, but I don't think you've actually met, have you? George, this is my grandfather."

"How do you do, Sir?" George Hart said with a weak smile.

He'd just seen the headline-MYSTERY AIRPLANE FLIES UNDER GG BRIDGE. It was accompanied by a somewhat-out-of-focus photograph of a Stagger Wing Beech flying up the Golden Gate no more than a hundred feet off the water.

"How do you do, Sergeant?" Andrew Foster said-causing the heads of half a dozen Navy and Marine officers, three them wearing Naval Aviator's wings, to turn in curiosity. The men's bar of the Andrew Foster was not often frequented by enlisted men.

The bartender quickly appeared.

"What can I get you, Mr. Foster?" The name intensified the curiosity of the officers. They had heard that the old man sometimes showed up in the men's bar and bought the next round for anyone in uniform.

And here he was.

"A little Famous Grouse, Tony, please," the old man said, and then changed his mind. "Bring the bottle."

"Yes, Sir."

"I've been wondering what happened to you," Andrew Foster said. "I understand you have had a very interesting afternoon."

"Fascinating," Pick agreed. "Well, we went out to the house, Grandfather."

"You had no trouble getting there?"

"Not a bit, Sir."

"Nothing's broken, or anything like that?"

"No, Sir."

"I just had a talk with Richmond Fowler," Andrew Foster said. "He said to tell you that he would do what he could, because of your father; but he could make no promises."

"I see."

The waiter delivered a quart bottle of Famous Grouse, held it over a glass, and poured. It was nearly full before Andrew Foster said, "Thank you." He took a large swallow, then turned to his grandson.

"Pick, damn it, I've covered for you before, but this! My God, even for you, this is spectacular!"

"Yes," Pick said, wholly unrepentant. "I rather thought it was myself."

"Why?"

"It seemed like a marvelous idea at the time, didn't it, George?"

"No, it didn't," George said.

"Did it pass through your mind what your father's reaction to this is going to be when he finds out about it?"

"No. But on the other hand, Dad's in no position to say anything to me about it."

"Meaning what?" the old man snapped.

"Meaning that Dad swam the Golden Gate. That was considerably more dangerous than flying up it and under the bridge."

"Christ, will you shut up!" Hart said, aware that their conversation was now the subject of a good deal of attention.

Almost immediately, he was sure that there was reason for his concern. A lieutenant, in greens and wearing wings, walked up to them.

"Lieutenant Pickering, I believe?" he said.

"Well, if it isn't Lieutenant Stecker, the pride of Marine Aviation. I didn't expect you until tomorrow."

"I came out a day early," Lieutenant Stecker said. "I'll tell you about it later." Hart sensed the question had made Stecker uncomfortable.

The proof came when Stecker pulled the newspaper to him, visibly glad for a chance to change the subject.

"I saw this in the airport," he said. "What kind of an idiot would do something like that?"

"As George Washington said to his daddy," Pick said happily, "I cannot tell a lie."

"Will you shut the hell up!" Hart snapped.

"Holy Christ! Really?" Stecker said.

"He's kidding, of course," Hart said.

"He kiddeth not. Oh, excuse me. Lieutenant Stecker, may I present my grandfather, Mr. Foster? And Sergeant Hart?"

"How do you do, Lieutenant?" Andrew Foster said.

"I think we ought to get out of here," Hart said.

"I think the sergeant is right," Andrew Foster said.

"I'm having a fine time right where I am," Pick said.

"Listen to me, you jackass," Stecker flared. "You will either leave here under your own power or I will coldcock you and carry you out." Pick looked at him a moment.

"For some strange reason, I think you're serious."

"I'm serious."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Hart said.

"Let's go," Stecker said.

Pick met his eyes for a moment and then shrugged. "I'm outnumbered."

They walked out of the bar.

Halfway across the lobby, Andrew Foster said, "I think you had better either get out of the hotel or go to Sergeant Hart's room. In case someone is looking for you."

"They won't know where to even start looking for me until sometime tomorrow."

"Where's your room, Sergeant?" Stecker asked.

Hart pulled the key from his pocket.

"Eleven-fifteen," he said.

"Let's go," Stecker said, and took Pick's arm and propelled him toward the bank of elevators.

"I don't know why you're pissed," Pick said to Stecker in Hart's room-a three-bedroom-plus-sitting-room suite. "You weren't there. Even if they catch me and stand me before a firing squad, you're not involved."

"You had no goddamned right to involve the sergeant in this," Stecker said. "Jesus Christ, it's a court-martial offense to be wearing civilian clothing! Not to mention the insanity of your flight under the goddamned bridge!"

"George, we have just heard from the Long Grey Line," Pick said.

"The what?"

"Lieutenant Stecker is not only a professional officer and gentleman, but a West Pointer. They believe, as a matter of faith, that enlisted men have no brains and have to be cared for like children."

"Oh, fuck you, Pick!" Stecker flared. "I was raised as the dependent of an enlisted man."

"George is not going to get into any trouble," Pick said.

"Says you," Stecker said. "Sergeant, where did you meet this... child in an officer's uniform?"

"Lieutenant," Hart said. When he had his attention, he handed him his credentials. "Even if anybody asks, there's no problem about the civilian clothing. This says I can wear it." Stecker looked carefully at the credentials.

"Are you on duty now?" he asked.

"More or less."

"What does that mean?"

"It means he works for my father, and he came out here to reassure me."

"Reassure you about what?"

"Dad's in the Army Hospital in Washington, with malaria, exhaustion, and Christ only knows what else."

"Why didn't you let me know?" :,I didn't want to worry you." `How is he?"

"He'll be all right," Hart answered.

"And that's what caused this insanity? Relief that your father's going to be all right?"

"What insanity?" Pickering asked innocently. "I was under the impression that any red-blooded Marine Aviator would jump at the chance to fly under that bridge. What are you, Stecker, some kind of a pansy?" Stecker looked at him. Finally he shook his head.

"Hand me the bottle," he said. "I think I will get stinko."

"Not until you tell me why you're out here a day early," Pickering said. "Is there some angry Pennsylvania Dutch farmer looking for you with a knocked-up daughter in tow?"

"Give me the goddamned bottle," Stecker said.

Pickering gave it to him.

"My mother was driving me nuts," he said, finally, after he'd taken a pull from the neck. "It wasn't her fault, of course.

... Fuck it. It doesn't matter."

"What?" Pickering asked softly.

"She's already lost one son in this fucking war. My father's on goddamned Guadalcanal, and now I'm going there. I couldn't stand the way she looked at me. So I came out early.

"I suppose that makes me the candidate for prick of the year."

"I'm sorry," Pickering said.

"I'll tell you what," Stecker said. "I did not come out here to-"

"To what?"

"You really flew under the bridge?"

"I really flew under the bridge."

"You had enough time in that airplane to feel that confident?"

"Yeah, sure I did. How long were we up there. would you say, George, before we went under the bridge?"

"About twenty-five minutes."

"How much total time is what I'm asking."

"Twenty-five minutes. I just told you." Hart could tell from the look on Pickering's face that he was telling the truth.

"Lieutenant," he said, "can I have that bottle, please?"

"If he gives you the bottle, George, the next thing you know you'll want to go out chasing fast women."

"I know you disapprove, that you will be faithful until death to Saint Martha, the virtuous widow, but what's wrong with that for Hart and me?" Stecker said.

"Now that I think about it," Pickering said, "nothing. Not for any of us."

"Really?" Stecker asked. "What about the sainted widow?"

"Live today, for tomorrow we die, right?"

"Oh, Jesus!" Stecker said.

"Or go to jail," Hart said. "Whichever comes first."

"You guys want me to call some women or not?" Stecker handed him the telephone.

"Do you want fast women, or fast fast women?" Pickering asked.

"Just as long as they don't talk too much before they take off their clothes," Stecker said.

"I know just the girls," Pickering said, and told the operator to give him an outside line.

[Five]

HEADQUARTERS

FIRST MARINE DIVISION

GUADALCANAL

12 SEPTEMBER 1942

When Lieutenant Colonel "Red Mike" Edson returned from the Tasimboko raid on 8 September, his professional assessment then was that several thousand Japanese were in the area, probably newly arrived and well equipped. This was confirmed on the afternoon of 12 September.

Lieutenant Colonel Sam Griffith picked up a Springfield rifle and led two volunteer riflemen on a patrol into the rain forest and up the ridge inland from Henderson Field. Griffith's first combat experience in the war had been with the British Commandos, to whom he had been attached as an "observer." Griffith returned to report that a large force of Japanese was approaching, almost certainly several thousand of them. It was unsettling news. But worse, the force was both well led and in excellent physical condition: This was almost certainly the group that had elected not to attack Edson's battalion at Tasimboko. And now they were nearby. Only a well-led force in excellent physical condition could have moved through the rain forest and across the steep ridges from Tasimboko in less than four days.

Edson recalled General Vandergrift's words to him after the Tasimboko raid: "Conservation of force for future action is often a wise choice." That translated to mean they were facing a fellow professional, rather than what they had been facing before, an officer whose rank let him assume command of a motley force of hungry, demoralized, and poorly equipped troops.

Edson also remembered the message General Vandergrift had shown him from Lieutenant General Harukichi Hyakutake to the 17th Army.

"The operation to surround and recapture Guadalcanal will truly decide the fate of the control of the entire Pacific." The Japanese, Edson and Griffith concluded, were about to go into action on Guadalcanal.

It was later learned that the forces that landed in the vicinity of Tasimboko (an advance element of 750 officers and men during the night of 31 August was followed the next night by 1200 officers and men) were elements of the 124th Infantry regiment. Following the Imperial Japanese Army custom of naming an elite force after its commander, the unit was designated the Kawaguchi Butai. Its commander was Major General Kiotake Kawaguchi. Guadalcanal was not to be General Kawaguchi's first encounter with Americans. He and Kawaguchi Butai had spent April mopping up the last remnants of American resistance on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.

General Kawaguchi's orders from General Hyakutake were to retake the airstrip (Henderson Field) as a first priority. Once that was accomplished, the Americans could no longer send aircraft aloft to intercept Japanese aviation and Naval forces.

Then throwing them back into the sea would be a relatively easy matter.

On 12 September, of course, Edson had no way of knowing about any of this. His only information was what he'd suspected-which Griffith now confirmed-that he was about to get involved in a battle with several thousand fresh and probably well-led Japanese troops.

He did what experience had taught him. He ordered several strong patrols to set out at first light to gather more information about the enemy; and he summoned an officer's call to explain the situation to his command.

Edson's situation map showed the disposition of his forces along a T-shaped ridge about a mile south of the Henderson Field runway. The cross of the T was clear, broken ground with four spurs, two on each side of the ridge that formed the 1000-yard-long base.

Baker and Charley companies of the Raiders were on the line. Able and Dog companies were in reserve, close to the line.

Raider headquarters and elements of Easy Company (Heavy Weapons) were several hundred yards back from the front, on the base of the T.

Remnants of the badly hurt Parachute Battalion were mixed in with the Raiders. Baker Company, Parachutists, down to seventy men, was next to Baker Company, Raiders. The parachutists of Able and Charley companies were in the wooded area near the bottom of the base of the T. And what was left of the Parachute Battalion command post was near Edson's CP.

It was generally agreed that the Japanese would probably attack toward Henderson Field from their positions south of the ridge down the long axis of the base of the T.

Marine fields of fire were discussed. It was finally concluded that given the limited resources, all that could be done had been done. They would just have to wait until morning and see what happened.

At about 2100, just as Colonel Edson was about to dismiss his officers, the Japanese attacked. Japanese artillery located east of Alligator Creek opened fire. A moment later a parachute flare burst in light over the south end of Henderson Field.

Moments after that, Japanese Naval gunfire began to land on the ridge.

By morning, what had been somewhat impersonally identified as "the ridge" would be forever known as "Bloody Ridge."

Chapter Nine

[One]

HEADQUARTERS,

1ST RAIDER BATTALION

GUADALCANAL, SOLOMON ISLANDS

0445 HOURS 13 SEPTEMBER 1942

Lieutenant Colonel Merritt "Red Mike" Edson was staring closely at a map of Guadalcanal that covered the small, folding wooden table where he'd spread it. The Japanese had attacked hard last night, and he was trying to make some sense of their movements.

When Colonel Edson glanced up from the map, another Marine was standing beside the table looking down at the map with great interest. He had not been there three minutes before and he was not a member of the 1st USMC Raider Battalion I'm annoyed for some reason, Edson thought. I wonder why?

"Good morning, Jack," Edson said. "I didn't see you come in.

"Good morning, Sir," the Marine said crisply, almost coming to attention.

He would have come to attention, Edson thought, if he wasn't cradling that Mickey Mouse rifle of his in his arms like a deer hunter.

Major Jack (NMI) Stecker, USMCR, Commanding Officer, 2nd Battalion, Fifth Marines, was one of the very few people on Guadalcanal armed with the U.S. Rifle, Caliber.30-06, MI, known after its inventor as the Garand.

Most of The Marine Corps (including Lieutenant Colonel Edson) believed that compared to the U.S. Rifle, Springfield, Caliber.30-06, Model 1903, the Garand was a piece of shit.

Major Jack (NMI) Stecker was sure these people were wrong. Not only could the eight-shot, semiautomatic Garand be fired far more rapidly than the five-shot, bolt-operated Springfield, but it was also his professional judgment that the Garand was every bit as reliable as the Springfield (minor Marine Corps heresy) and more accurate (major Marine Corps heresy).

Before the war, when he was Master Gunnery Sergeant Stecker, he represented The Corps at the testing of the new rifle at Fort Benning, Georgia. After that, he regularly and frequently augmented his income by putting his money where his mouth was when other senior staff noncommissioned officers questioned the accuracy of the Garand.

On 7 December 1941, Stecker was the senior noncommissioned officer at Quantico. Shortly afterward he was called to active duty as a captain, and a short time after that, he was promoted to major.

Though it was rarely put into words, professional Marine officers often felt a certain ambivalence about Mustang officers.

On the one hand, obviously, The Corps needed more officers than were available; and just as obviously it made more sense to put officers' insignia on veteran senior noncommissioned officers than to commission men directly from civilian life.

On the other hand, there was no substitute for experience. In the case of Major Jack (NMI) Stecker, for instance, his first command was his present command, 2nd Battalion, Fifth Marines. Previous to that assignment he had never commanded a platoon or served as a company executive officer, company commander, battalion staff officer, or battalion executive officer.

I n the minds of many officers, including many who honestly regarded him as one of the best master gunnery sergeants in the Marine Corps, Jack (NMI) Stecker had not actually earned either his promotion to major or his command of 2nd Battalion, Fifth Marines. As they saw it, he got his promotion and his command (over a dozen or so regular officers) largely because he was a lifelong friend of Brigadier General Lewis T. "Lucky Lew" Harris, now assistant First Marine Division commander.

Harris first met Stecker in World War I. Second Lieutenant Lewis T. Harris had been Corporal Jack (NMI) Stecker's platoon leader during an engagement that caused Corporal Stecker to stand out from other Marines, officer or enlisted. In recognition of the conspicuous part he played in that engagement, he was awarded his nation's highest award for valor and gallantry. He was rarely seen wearing it, but he was entitled to top his rows of medals and campaign ribbons with a blue ribbon dotted with white stars which signified that the President of the United States, on behalf of the U.S. Congress, had awarded him the Medal of Honor.

Second Lieutenant Harris was one of the two dozen Marines whose lives," in the words of the award citation, "had been saved by Corporal Stecker's utter disregard of his own personal safety and painful wounds while manifesting extraordinary courage above and beyond the call of duty in the face of apparently overwhelming enemy force, such actions reflecting great credit upon himself, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the Naval Service of the United States."

"I don't suppose you're here, Jack," Edson said to Stecker, "to tell me we're being relieved by Second of the Fifth?" It was a remark made in jest. But Stecker did not take it that way.

"No, Sir. But I wouldn't be surprised if we were sent up here to reinforce. I thought I should make the time to come up and look around." Yes, Edson thought, of course you did. You may be Lew Harris' life long friend, and you do have The Medal, but that's not why they gave you the 2nd of the Fifth. They gave it to you because you are one hell of a good Marine officer, which you proved beyond any question on Tulagi, and again just now, by anticipating the orders you'll probably receive, an preparing yourself and your battalion for them.

"Would you like me to... ?" Edson asked, gesturing at the map.

"I'd be grateful, Sir, if you could spare the time."

"We had listening posts, here, here, and here," Edson said, pointing to the map. "They went under in the first couple of minutes." He looked up at Stecker, saw him nod understanding, and then went on: "The main thrust of the attack hit here, where my Baker and Charley companies met. I'm sure it was by accident, but they hit one platoon from Baker and one from Charley." Stecker nodded again. He knew what that meant. It had caused a command and communication problem that would not have existed had the Japanese attack struck two platoons of one company.

"They used firecrackers. Very lifelike sounds. That caused some confusion," Edson went on. "And then-this was smart-here, here, and here, they cut fire lanes and fired down them. They took us by surprise, Jack. Hell, I didn't expect them to attack at all last night. I was going to send out patrols this morning, right about now, to see what they were up to." Stecker grunted and nodded, but didn't say anything.

"Then they breached the line between Baker and Charley companies," Edson went on, pointing. "Mass attack. Hundreds of them. Screaming. Unnerving. Charley Company had to withdraw to here," he pointed again, "which made Baker's positions untenable, so they had to pull back-actually, they had to fight their way back-to here."

"Why didn't they pursue the attack," Stecker asked, "since Baker was pulling back?"

"Because the people who couldn't make it back were-are still fighting. In small groups, as individuals." Stecker grunted again.

"I have the feeling, Jack," Edson said softly, "that the Japanese didn't quite expect the resistance they got." Stecker looked at him with a question in his eyes.

"There was no second attack," Edson explained. "There've been skirmishes all night... in other words, they have not only the means-though God knows we have killed a lot of them but the will. But no planned, coordinated, second attack. And they stopped their naval artillery, I thought, before I would have stopped it."

"That means they thought they were going to go right through your lines. The artillery was lifted because they believed they would be holding the positions by then."

"That's how I read it."

"They'll be back, Colonel," Stecker said.

"And so I hope, Jack, will you. I've got about four hundred-maybe four hundred and twenty-effectives, and an 1800-yard line to hold."

"What about the Parachute Battalion?"

"They're even more understrength than we are."

"We're all understrength," Stecker said.

"What shape are you in, Jack?"

"I've lost more men to sickness than to the enemy," Stecker said. "But, Jesus Christ, for some reason their morale is higher than I have any reason to think it should be. They'll do all right."

That obviously has something to do with the quality of the officers leading them, Edson thought.

He said: "They're Marines, Jack."

"Yes, Sir. Thank you for your time, Sir. I better go back and try to make myself useful."

[Two]

VMF-229

HENDERSON FIELD

GUADALCANAL, SOLOMON ISLANDS

0605 HOURS 13 SEPTEMBER 1942

Compared with the pilots of VMF-229, the half-dozen Naval Aviators gathered in the sandbag wall tent that served as the squadron office of VMF-229 looked neat and clean enough to march in a parade at Pensacola. This was so despite their recent takeoff from a carrier at sea, a flight of approximately two hundred miles in a tightly packed cockpit, and the faint coating of oil mist that often settled on F4F Wildcat pilots.

They were freshly shaven. Their hair was neatly trimmed.

Their khaki flight suits, although sweat-stained under the arms and down the back, had recently passed through a washing machine. The undershirts that showed through the lowered zippers of their flight suits were as blinding white as any dress uniform. The shoulder holsters which held their Smith and Wesson.38 Special revolvers looked as if they had been issued that morning. Even their shoes were shined.

The Commanding Officer of VMF-229, by contrast, needed a haircut. He had obviously not shaved in twenty-four hours.

The skin of his nose was sunburned raw. There were deep rings under his eyes. And his hands were dirty. His flight suit (no underwear of any kind was beneath it) was soiled with grease and sweat, and his feet were in battered boondockers. The leather holster that carried his.45 Colt automatic was green with mold.

Two of the office's three chairs were occupied by Captain Charles Galloway and his squadron clerk. The third held a stainless steel pot containing a green-colored liquid that tasted as foul as it looked. Captain Galloway had developed a theory that mixing lime-flavored powder with their water would kill the taste of the chlorine. His theory had proved to be wishful thinking.

The Navy pilots were from the carrier USS Hornet; they'd come to transfer to VMF-229 six F4F Wildcats, As Captain Galloway carefully examined the documentation accompanying the aircraft, they stood around uneasily; for he had a number of pointed questions about reported malfunctions that had been ostensibly repaired.

But he was a happy man. As of that morning, VMF-229 was down to three operational aircraft. And six nearly brand-new aircraft, splendidly set up by skilled mechanics in the well equipped shops aboard Hornet, had just arrived.

"You checked the guns?" he asked finally, looking at the full Lieutenant, the most senior of the Navy pilots.

"Our SOP is to check weapons just before entering a threatening, or combat, situation."

"In other words, you haven't checked the guns?"

"No."

"I nevertheless thank you from the bottom of my heart," said Galloway.

"We were just about out of airplanes."

"You're welcome," the Lieutenant said somewhat awkwardly.

A small, thin, blond-haired First Lieutenant of Marines, attired in a flight suit quite as filthy as Captain Galloway's, staggered into the tent. He was loaded down with three Springfield rifles, three steel helmets, and three sets of web equipment, each consisting of a cartridge belt, a canteen, a first-aid pouch, and a bayonet in a scabbard. He was trailed by his crew chief, similarly loaded down.

"Sir!" he said.

"Gentlemen, my executive officer, Lieutenant Dunn," Captain Galloway said.

"Sir, the skipper said there's some question of the R4D being able to make it in to take these gentlemen out," Bill Dunn said.

"Really?" Galloway said.

"Yes, Sir," Dunn said seriously. "And in view of the ground situation, he thought these gentlemen should be equipped so they can fight as infantry, if that should be required. I personally don't think that will be necessary."

"But apparently the skipper does?"

"Yes, Sir, but maybe he's just being careful." Dunn began to pass out the rifles to the Navy pilots. There was little question in Galloway's mind that the last time any of them had touched a rifle was before they'd gone to flight school.

"And are they supposed to wait here until we know whether they'll be needed or not?"

"No, Sir. The skipper seems concerned that Japanese infiltrators may sneak through the lines and attempt to damage our aircraft in their revetments. Unless the situation gets worse, he wants these officers to be placed in the revetments."

"Lieutenant," the Navy pilot said, "what exactly was the word about the R4D?"

"Essentially, Sir, that they don't wish to risk the loss of the aircraft if the Japanese break through our lines, and/or damage the runway with artillery. The aircraft will not be sent until they see how the ground situation develops."

"I see," the Navy Lieutenant said solemnly.

There have been just about enough rounds landing around here to make that credible, Galloway decided. And there's enough noise from the small arms and mortars a mile away to be scary as hell unless you know what it is.

"Dunn, is there enough time to have these gentlemen fed before they go to the revetments?"

"There's time, Sir, but Japanese Naval artillery has taken out the mess, Sir. I will get them some C rations, Sir."

"Sorry about that, gentlemen," Galloway said. "And thank you once again, in case I don't see you again, for the aircraft."

"Our pleasure, Captain," the Navy Lieutenant said with a weak smile as he adjusted the interior straps of his helmet.

"Bill, that was a rotten fucking thing to do to those sailors," Galloway said, when Lieutenant Dunn, wearing a very pleased-with-myself grin, walked back in the tent ten minutes later.

`Yeah, wasn't it?" Dunn replied. "But it will give them something to talk about when they get back to their air-conditioned wardroom. How they personally repelled mass attacks of sword-wielding Japanese." `After they have a nice shower and a nice shave and have put on nice clean clothes," Galloway said.

The telephone rang.

"Greengiant," Galloway answered it.

"Yes, Sir. They're being serviced. They're brand new, Colonel. Somebody in the Navy must have screwed up."

"I'll pass the word, Sir. Thank you." He put the field telephone back into its leather case.

"That was the skipper. The ETA on the R4D to take those guys out of here is fourteen hundred."

"They'll be glad to hear that," Dunn said.

"They would be even gladder if you told them at say, thirteen fifty-five."

"Has anyone ever told you, Skipper, that you can be just as much a prick as any of us?" The telephone rang again.

"Greengiant.

"Yes, Sir.

"I'll send the three remaining aircraft, Sir, and with your permission, Dunn and I will take two of the new aircraft.

That'll let us kill two birds with one stone. I don't want to turn them over to somebody else without a test flight.

"Aye, aye, Sir." He put the phone back in its leather case.

"Coast watchers report a flight of three twin-engine bombers from Rabaul. Destination unknown, but where else than here?"

"I heard," Dunn said. "It will be a pleasure flying an airplane fresh from the showroom floor."

"Just don't break it," Galloway said as he got up from his chair. "I don't think there's any more where these came from." When they reached their plane revetments, they found Navy pilots guarding them. Each wore a helmet and firmly clutched a Springfield, as he peered warily over the sandbags toward the general direction of the sound of the small arms and mortar fire.

Three minutes after that, Dunn and Galloway were airborne, climbing slowly, so as to conserve fuel, to a final altitude of ,000 feet.

No Japanese aircraft appeared.

When their fuel was gone and they were making their descent to Henderson, they encountered a large flight of mixed Navy and Marine F4Fs climbing upward.

"Cactus Fighter leader, Galloway."

"Go ahead, Galloway."

"What's up?"

"There's supposed to be three recon aircraft and twenty Zeroes up here someplace."

"Haven't seen a thing."

"Lucky you." Galloway pushed the nose of the Wildcat over and down. If there were twenty Zeroes in the air-and if the Coast watchers said there were, you could bank on it-the worst situation to be in was nearly out of gas and trying to get on the ground.

He allowed the airspeed indicator to come close to the red line before retarding the throttle. When he glanced out the window he could see Bill Dunn.

Dunn-apparently holding the stick with his knees-had both hands free to mimic some guy holding a Springfield rifle to his shoulder and wincing in pain and surprise at the recoil.

Galloway, smiling, shook his head.

{Three]

HEADQUARTERS,

FIRST MARINE DIVISION

GUADALCANAL, SOLOMON ISLANDS

1605 HOURS 13 SEPTEMBER 1942

Looking something like a schoolteacher, Major General Archer Vandergrift, commanding the First Marine Division, stood with an eighteen-inch ruler in his hand in front of the situation map in the G-3 Section. A technical sergeant was nearby, armed with a piece of cloth and a red and black grease pencil, prepared to make corrections to the map as necessary.

The "students" were the general staff. the G-1 (Personnel), the G-2 (Intelligence), the G-3 (Plans and Operations), the G-4 (Supply), plus Lieutenant Colonel William Whaling, executive officer of the Fifth Marines; Lieutenant Colonel Hayden Price, commanding 5th Battalion, Eleventh Marines (the artillery); and Lieutenant Colonel Merritt Edson, commanding 1st Raider Battalion.

"I realize you all would rather be with your units, so I'll make this as quick as I can," General Vandergrift said. "I just want to make absolutely sure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing." He turned to the map.

"Red Mike sent his people out at sunrise to recover what he had lost during the night," he said, using the pointer. "There was not much resistance, and they were able to regain their fighting positions. When the Raiders withdrew last night, they had to leave the food they took from the Japanese at Tasimboko. The Japanese now have it back." He moved the pointer. "The Parachute Battalion's Able Company, which was here, had no contact with the Japanese last night. We moved it down here, to the level area, so they could support the Raiders when they went out to take back their positions. They got this far when they were taken under fire from concealed positions. The company commander... who was that, Mike?"

"McKennan, General. Captain William."

"Right. Good man. He made the correct decision not to get into a major scrap on what was a very narrow front. So he moved around here, got some artillery support, and this time only ran into some sniper opposition. He was where he was supposed to be by about 1500.

"Charley Company of the Raiders was pretty badly hurt last night, here on the right. They were withdrawn and replaced by Able Company, plus what was left of Dog Company, which we have disbanded.

"Edson has pulled his line back about one hundred yards, to here," Vandergrift said. "That shortened it, and it will force the Japanese to attack the open ground here. We have moved the machine guns around to take advantage of that field of fire, and the rifle positions have been built up all along that area.

"I called Mike about three o'clock and told him that I was going to send in the 2nd of the Fifth to back him up, and that as soon as I could find Jack Stecker, I was going to send him up there to look around. He told me that Jack was up there first thing this morning. Why wasn't I surprised?" There was dutiful laughter.

The problem of getting 2nd of the Fifth into position is that have to cross the Henderson runway to get there," Vandergrift continued. "And the runway, obviously, has been about as busy as it can get. Whaling, have you got an estimate from Jack Stecker about when he'll be in position?" Colonel Whaling stood up. He did not appear happy.

"Sir, I talked to him a few minutes ago. He says it will be long after dark."

"Can't be helped," Vandergrift said. "Jack will do the best he can." He turned to the map and used the ruler as a pointer again.

"Price has moved his 105s out of the woods here and into firing positions here south of the Henderson runway. Are your guns laid in, Price?" Since the Division's 155mm cannon had not been off-loaded during the invasion, the 105mm howitzer was the largest artillery piece available.

Colonel Price stood up.

"If they're not, Sir, they will be within minutes."

"OK. As soon as that happens, everybody but the gunners will move back to about here," Vandergrift said, pointing, "where they will form a secondary line in case the Japanese get through the Raiders and the Parachutists. If that happens, gentlemen, the artillery will be lost, and there won't be very much to keep the Japanese from taking Henderson." There was no response.

"Are there any additions, corrections, or observations that anyone wishes to make?" Vandergrift asked politely.

There were none.

"That will be all, gentlemen, thank you," General Vandergrift said.

The Japanese attacked at 1830. They directed their major effort to the right of the Raider defense line at almost exactly the point where they'd attacked the previous night.

[Four]

POLICE HEADQUARTERS

SAINT LOUIS, MISSOURI

1405 HOURS 15 SEPTEMBER 1942

When the knock on the frosted glass panel of his office door destroyed his concentration, Captain Karl Hart, commanding officer of the Homicide Bureau, was trying to make sense of a police officer's report of a death the previous evening by gas asphyxiation.

He had just concluded that the reporting officer was not only a functional illiterate, but a genuine goddamn moron to boot.

He ignored the knock and tried to make sense of a sentence that read, so far as he could make out, "body dispozd by coronary's office." Coronary's obviously was supposed to mean Coroner's, but what the hell was dispozd?

There was another knock on the frosted glass panel of his door, this time an impatient knock.

"Wait a goddamned minute!" He reached for his telephone and placed it on his shoulder.

Holding it in place with his chin, he started to dial a number.

The doorknob turned, followed by the faint rattling noise it always made when it was being opened. In fury, he turned to face it.

Goddamn it, I said to wait a goddamned minute!

"Is this where I go to have somebody homicided?" Sergeant George Hart asked innocently.

"George," Captain Hart said.

"Hi, Pop."

"George," Captain Hart repeated, and then got up and walked around the desk and put out his hand.

His son shook it.

"Damn," Captain Hart said. "You could have let us know you were coming."

No, I couldn't. That would have required explanations.

"You been out to the house? Seen your mother?"

"I went there from the airport."

"What did she say?"

"She asked was I here, and had I seen you," George reported truthfully.

"Jesus H. Christ!" Captain Hart said. And then, though it had been a long, long time since he'd done it: What the hell, why not? he asked himself as he put his arms around his son and hugged him. "Damn, it's good to see you!" It's the first time in God knows how long, George realized, since I was a kid, that Pop's hugged me.

He felt his eyes water, and that surprised him.

"How much leave they give you?"

"Five days."

"That's all?"

"That's all they give you."

"Jesus, you can hardly get from down there and back in five days," his father said. Then he saw the chevrons on George's tunic.

"You're a sergeant? Jesus, that was quick."

"The Marines recognize good men when they see one," George said.

"Look," his father said, "I got a report on a citizen stuck his head in the oven that's so bad I don't even believe it."

"Since when do you handle suicides?"

"When the guy's brother's a Monsignor and the Commissioner told me he don't want to hear the word suicide. You know the Catholics, they won't bury a suicide in holy ground-"

"Consecrated, " George corrected him automatically.

"Consecrated, holy, whatever. I got to talk to the cop - I can't believe this guy, he's so dumb-and then talk to the coroner, and then report to the Commissioner."

"Just out of idle curiosity, what are you going to find out really happened?"

"He slipped on a wet kitchen floor as he was about to light the oven," Captain Hart said, "bumped his head and knocked himself out. And then the gas got him."

"Brilliant." George laughed.

"It was all I could think of," Captain Hart admitted. "Anyway, you don't want to hang around here. I'll meet you in Mooney's in thirty minutes."

"OK."

"Maybe you better call your mother and ask her does she want to eat out someplace?"

"She said she was going to make a pot roast, and I was to bring you home no later than half past six."

"OK. So we'll have a couple of snorts and go home."

"OK, Pop."

"You got some money?"

"Yeah, sure."

"You said you went home from the airport. So what did an airplane ticket cost you? Where'd you get the money?" Captain Hart said, as he took a wad of bills from his pocket and peeled off two five-dollar bills. "Don't argue with me, I'm your father."

"OK, Pop. Thank you."

"Thirty minutes, George," Captain Hart said, and then there was another unexpected gesture of affection. He rubbed his hand over his son's head, but masked the affection by saying, "Jesus, I love your haircut."

Mooney's was crowded. Cops who had come off the four-in-the-afternoon shift change mingled with courthouse people who seldom waited until the clock said five before closing up.

George smiled at familiar faces and even shook a couple of hands, but there was no one in the bar he knew well enough to sit down with.

He found a stool toward the back of the room, near the Wurlitzer jukebox. Before he sat down, he reached behind the Wurlitzer and turned the volume control way down.

"Welcome home, George," Jerry the bartender said, offering his hand. He was a plump young man wearing a black vest and an immaculate white shirt with the cuffs turned up. "Your Uncle George was in a while ago, and Ramirez just left."

"I'll be around a while. My father's coming in."

"Seagram's and Seven? Or a beer?"

"Jerry, you got any Famous Grouse?"

"What the hell is that?"

"Scotch." The bartender shook his head, no. "I got some Dewar's and there's some..." He turned, searched the array of bottles against the mirror and put a bottle of Haig and Haig Pinch Bottle on the bar... of this."

"That. Straight. Water on the side."

"When'd you start drinking that?" Jerry the bartender asked as he poured a very generous shot in a small, round glass.

"As soon as I found out about it," George said. He took out his wallet and laid a ten-dollar bill on the bar.

"Put that away," Jerry said. "Your money's no good in here."

"Thanks, Jerry," George said, and started to put the twenty back in his wallet. Then he remembered the two fives his father had given him, and took them from his pocket.

The truth of the matter, Jerry, is that I was having a couple Of drinks with my pal Pick Pickering-you know, the guy whose grandfather owns Saint Louis' snootiest hotel, the Foster Pierre Marquette, and forty other hotels-right after we flew under the Golden Gate Bridge in his grandfather's airplane; and Ol' Pick said, "George, if we're going to drink as much as I think we are, you better get off that Seagram's and Seven and onto The Bird. " So I got onto The Bird, which is what my pal Pick calls Famous Grouse; and I got to like it, right from the first.

Would I bullshit you, Jerry?

He took a swallow of the water on the side and then poured scotch into it.

"My God, " Pick said, "you were a vice cop and I have to teach you about booze? Upon my word as an officer and a gentleman, Sergeant Hart, the way one drinks whiskey-and by whiskey, I mean scotch whiskey-is to mix it in equal portions with just a little bit of ice.

I wonder why I used to think scotch tasted like medicine?

George thought after he'd taken a sip of his drink. Well, what the hell, when I was a little kid and pop ate oysters, I used to want to throw up. And now I love them. They're what they call an acquired taste.

He turned on his stool and caught the arm of a waitress.

"Hey, George," she said, "I thought that was you. You look real nice in your uniform."

"Hazel, could you get me a dozen oysters?"

"You bet your life I could, honey." When he turned back to the bar, Jerry handed him a newspaper.

"Seen the paper?"

"No, I haven't. Thank you." He unfolded the paper and spread it on the bar. There was a four-column picture of an aircraft carrier, and below it the headline: AIRCRAFT CARRIER `WASP' SUNK IN PACIFIC.

He read the story: Washington, DC Sept 15 (AP) - In a terse announcement this afternoon, the I Navy announced that the aircraft carrier USS `Wasp' was lost at sea yesterday (Sept 14), with heavy loss of life, while operating in the Solomon Islands area.

The Navy said that initial reports indicate the `Wasp' was struck by at least three Japanese torpedoes from a submarine in an action which also saw a destroyer sunk, and serious, but not fatal, damage caused to the battleship USS `North Carolina."

There was other war news, some of it accompanied by photographs:

in North Africa, German airfields at Benghazi have been attacked by units of the British Long Range Desert Group, and severe damage is reported.

American bombers have attacked Japanese bases in the Aleutian Islands.

The Russian forces defending Stalingrad are in desperate shape. The defense perimeter has been reduced to a thirty-mile area. The German High Command has predicted the fall of the city within a matter of days.

Word has reached London that the Cunard liner `Laconia,' carrying British military dependent families and Italian prisoners of war, has been sunk off the Cape of Good Hope by the German submarine U-156.

On Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, the Marines have succeeded in turning back a Japanese attack on `Bloody Ridge' near the American air base, Henderson Field. Severe Japanese losses were reported.

Jesus Christ, Pick and Dick Stecker are on their way to Guadalcanal. It doesn't seem so fucking impersonal if you know people.

An elbow jabbed Hart in the ribs. He turned and saw that he'd been joined by a fellow noncommissioned officer of The United States Marine Corps, Staff Sergeant Howard H. Wertz, USMC, -the miserable, lying cocksucker who conned him into joining the crotch by telling him he could be sort of a Marine detective.

Sliding his beer glass around in a little puddle on the bar, Wertz gave him a smirking smile.

"You look good, kid," he said. "Parris Island must have been good for you."

"Yeah, all that fresh air," Hart said. "Still scrounging up all the warm bodies you can for the crotch, are you, Sergeant?"

"You know how it is, kid. You're in The Corps, you do what they tell you." I don't really want to stick his head in the spittoon or knock his teeth down his throat. How come? Christ knows, I thought about doing just that by the goddamned hour.

"I guess so," Hart said.

"You know what I wondered when I saw you, Hart?"

"Haven't the faintest fucking idea, Sergeant."

"I wondered where you got those chevrons on your sleeve.

"Oh, you wondered about that, huh?"

"Yeah, I mean, what the hell. I'm not normally a suspicious person, but what is it now, eight weeks since you went off to Parris Island?" Hart did the arithmetic in his head.

"Closer to ten, actually."

"OK, ten, then. You don't get to be a Sergeant in The Corps in ten fucking weeks." `Some people do." `You know what I think, Hart? And I'm really disappointed. I think you sewed those stripes on to impress broads."

"Well, I admit it works. Some girls think Marine sergeants are really hot shit."

"Yeah, well, assholes like you wearing stripes they haven't earned really piss me off. You better have some orders to go with them stripes." He held out his hand.

"No orders, Sergeant," Hart said. "Sorry.

He reached into the breast pocket of his tunic and took out his leather identification folder. He handed it to Wertz.

Wertz examined with great care the credentials of Special Agent George F. Hart of the Office of Naval Investigation.

"Go fuck yourself, Wertz," Hart said, taking them back.

"I'm not sure I believe that," Wertz said.

"Call me on it, you sonofabitch! Call the MPs and tell them you don't believe it. If I report that I showed you those credentials and told you to get out of my way, and you didn't, you'll be out of Saint Louis on your way to a rifle company so quick your asshole won't catch up with you for a month." Staff Sergeant Wertz made a decision.

"OK. So I'm sorry."

"Get the fuck out of my sight," Hart said. "I don't want to see you in here again as long as I'm in Saint Louis." Staff Sergeant Wertz slid off his stool and walked out of Mooney's bar.

"What the hell was that all about?" Jerry the bartender asked.

"Nothing," Hart said. "Forget it."

"You want another one of these?" Jerry asked, holding up the Haig and Haig.

"Yeah, Jerry, please." I don't feel good about Wertz. Why not?

"Why do I have this feeling that you liked it as well as I did?" Elizabeth "Beth" Lathrop asked, in his bedroom in the suite in the Andrew Foster. When she spoke, neither Beth Lathrop nor George Hart was wearing clothes. And they were both sprawled in more or less close proximity across his bed.

"Cut the bullshit, " he said, and swung his legs out of bed and went to the bottle of scotch on the dresser.

When Elizabeth "Beth " Lathrop came into the suite, she was wearing a blue cotton dress he would remember the rest of his life.

As he would remember the rest of her, the long blond hair parted in the middle and held in place with a bow in back. And the smell of her perfume. And her blue eyes (matching her dress) and her long delicate fingers.

And now her perfect, pink-tipped breasts and the delicate tuft of blond hair at her crotch and the incredible warm softness within.

"Meaning what?"

"Meaning you did what you were paid to do. Leave it at that, for Christ's sake. Skip the bullshit.

He watched her face in the mirror over the dresser. It tightened, and then she shrugged.

Don't tell me I hurt your feelings, honey. You didn't really expect me to believe that "it was good for me, too" bullshit, did you?

He poured scotch into a glass and glanced over at the bed. She pulled the sheet over her. He lifted the glass toward her and caught her eye.

" Yes, thank you, I will, " she said.

He walked to the bed.

"How did a nice girl like you get into this?" he asked. What a damn fool silly question for a vice cop to ask, he thought as he asked it.

"You know the rules, " she said. "That's one of the questions you're not supposed to ask. " She pushed herself up against the headboard, pulled the sheet over her chest, and then reached for the glass.

"Thank you, " she said, politely.

"Professional curiosity, " he said over his shoulder as he went to make himself a drink. "What was it? Your husband threw you out? There's a kid somewhere, and this is the only way you can feed it? I think you're too smart to get under a pimp. "

"No husband. No kid. No pimp. What did you mean, `professional curiosity'?"

"I've heard a lot of stories.

"I'll bet you have. I bet you ask all the girls, right?"

"I'm a cop. Or was. A vice squad detective.

"Oddly enough, I believe that, " she said. "You said `was'?"

"Now I'm in The Marine Corps. "

"I wondered about that, " she said. "Pick said you were an old pal from Saint Louis. "

"I'm from Saint Louis. "

"But you're not old pals?" He shook his head, no.

"I work for his father.

"Oh, that's right, his father is a captain in the Navy.

"A general in The Marine Corps," he corrected her, laughing.

"In Washington. "

"Close, " she said, and smiled.

He shook his head.

"So that wasn't a threat to make trouble for me? she asked

"No. Of course not. "

"I've never had any trouble... been arrested."

"That's simply a question of time. Maybe it would be good for you. Twenty-four hours in the slam with a dozen girls off the street might make you understand what the hell you're doing to yourself "

"What have we got here, a Marine who used to be a vice detective? With morals?"

"You're so goddamned beautiful! You don't have to fuck every man who comes along!"

"Thank you, " she said, "but I don't fuck every man who comes along. The only reason I fucked you was that I couldn't find a third girl for the job. "

"You're running a string?" he asked, genuinely surprised. The madams of his acquaintance, and he knew half a dozen, were not at all like this girl Most were fat and middle-aged, and all were hard as nails, with cold eyes.

"I'm a photographer, " she said.

"That's a new one.

"You asked"

"Go on. "

"An advertising photographer, nothing special, mostly for catalogs and brochures. The way you get commissions is to be nice to art directors. Then they started asking me if I had friends who might like to earn a little pocket money. Somebody once said that the way to get rich is to identify a need and then fill it. So I provide a service. I have associates. Do we have to keep this UP - ?"

"Pickering's paying for this?"

"Do you have any idea how much housekeeping supplies this hotel uses?

Not to mention how many Foster hotels there are?

Keeping the heir apparent happy is just good business. They take it off their income tax as `client relations.

"But he knows?" he asked, but it was more of a statement.

"Of course he knows. Pick's a very good-looking fellow, but he's not that good-looking. I shouldn't have to tell you this, but there's no such thing as a free lunch.

He shook his head.

"Did you ever hear that you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth?"

Beth asked.

"You're so goddamned beautiful! You shouldn't be doing this! You don't have to do this!"

"There's another rule, " Beth said. "Clients are not supposed to worry about the girls. "

"Fuck you!"

"That's all you're supposed to do, " Beth said. "Let's leave it at that. And this time I won't tell you how much I liked it. " He met her eyes, and then looked quickly away. Beth made him very uncomfortable.

"Have you got a girl back in Saint Louis? Is that it? You're consumed with guilt?"

"No girl back in Saint Louis. No girl anywhere.

"I'm surprised, " she said.

"Why should you be surprised?"

"Because you strike me as a nice guy, " Beth said.

"You know what's really strange?" George said. "I really did like doing it with you. I never liked it so much before.

"I'm pleased.

"So laugh. "

"Sorry. "

"Goddamn you!"

"I really am pleased, " she said. "I probably shouldn't tell you this, but every once in a while... it's not just business.

"Am I supposed to believe that?"

"Believe whatever you goddamn please!" Their eyes met.

After a moment she said, "Why not? It's already paid for.

"Just for the hell of it, how much?"

"For the three of us, three hundred dollars.

"You could hire every whore in Saint Louis for three hundred dollars. "

"Come on, " Beth said, making a gesture at his midsection.

"Obviously, you want to.

He'd never wanted to sink himself in any woman half as desperately as he wanted to be in this one again.

It's all the fucking booze, he thought, as he walked to the bed and pulled the sheet off her. The booze, and that insane goddamn airplane ride under the bridge. All of it. I'm a little crazy, that's all. I'm too smart to fall for a whore, even one as beautiful, and nice, as this one.

"What the hell is that you're drinking?" Captain Karl Hart asked his son.

"Scotch. They make it in Scotland."

"Jerry, give me some real whiskey, and give him another of those. When did you start drinking scotch?"

"I don't know. How's the suicide?"

"Accident victim, accident victim," Captain Hart said. "I just checked. The undertaker got the lipstick and rouge off him, and the women's underwear, and I talked to the cop on the scene, and there's no further problem." Hart had one final thought about Beth Lathrop: There's one thing you have to say about her, she's not the kind of girl you could bring home to meet the folks.

[Five]

FERDINAND SIX

BUKA, SOLOMON ISLANDS

15 SEPTEMBER 1942