Pittsburgh. It was shitty, dirty, filthy covered with decades old layers of soot, but the soot didn’t hide the lurid working girls and the shitty Johns in the acrid neon lights of the shitty cheap hotels where a millhunk and a working girl could get together for five dollars and a pack of shitty roaks.
Lorton grabbed his gat. He put on his jacket. He walked out into the gloaming. The air didn’t smell right. It looked brown instead of black.
Already, punks, pushers, pervs, junkies, hookers, pimps, transvestites, pot-heads and drunks were parading up and down Liberty Avenue. Nothing had changed.
It was the kind of sleazy, acrid place where a perv businessman coming out of a nickel peep show might get rolled by a transvestite hooker looking for a fix of sweet-ice-cold black tar heroin.
He stood at the trolley stop. He pulled out a silver cigarette case and he took out a square. He lit one up and took a long roak. The trolley pulled up. He dropped the butt in the street and screwed it into the ground with his right foot. He pulled a dime out of his pocket. The wires of the caternary line sparked as the trolley rolled up. It was the cross-town trolley going south on Grant Street. He paid his fare and he took a seat.
Another man got in the back door. He wore a trench coat with the collar high. Lorton didn’t see him get on. The man got in the back and started reading from a green notebook with long-yellowed paper. He had notes taken with a fountain pen long ago:
“A good detective stays in the shadows. Nobody knows his private life or where he lives. He stays above the fray, he never gets too deep with the client or the case. He treats everyone the same. He always keep his head.”
The trolley continued on, rattling at every crossover. The trolley turned down Second Avenue. He took out a pack of cigarettes.
“You gotta square?” A lady asked him.
Lorton shook out a square. The two lit up. They roaked their cigarettes in silence. Lorton stood up and went to the front of the car. The lady followed him. She was a black woman about his age wearing a City Power Jumpsuit. She cradled a helmet in her left hand.
“You going to Bessie? My name is Julie, but they call me Jules. Thanks for the square man. I forgot my pack at the substation. I haven’t roaked a Roakanoake brand cigarette in a long time.” She said looking at the square.
The man behind the paper was listening intently to the conversation.
“No problem lady.”
“Call me Jules, man.”
“OK, Jules.” He looked at her quizzically for a minute. They got off the trolley at Bates Street. He grabbed her by the shoulders.
“Hey man watch it!”
“I know you, little sister!”
“Yes you do.”
“Why are you following me? What’s your game and who sent you?”
“You know who I am and why they sent me. And you…are gonna need all the help you can get.”
“You were the Seabee dame from the Navy Women’s Corps! You did all of the wiring and the commo equipment at Leyte. I know you!”
“Look who just caught up.” She waived the cigarette at him.
“You owe me a whole pack of squares, man.”
“Yes I do. Yes I do. You’re one of the Dulles girls aren’t you.”
“At your service, man.”
“How long have you been following me?”
“Since last night at the train station.”
He pulled her under the bridge into the darkness.
“Look this Rokkoman guy is gonna be here tonight. He is representing Japan on a cooperative agreement to learn steel-making from West-Pittsburgh Steel. The cops are gonna try to arrest him. Someone else is tailing him. Someone else may be here to take him out. My instructions are to take him back to…”
“Oak Ridge…” She continued for him. “Look, come with me, I’m gonna tap into the line right back up here and we’re gonna listen in. When the time is right we move into the plant. When everyone makes their move: Boom! We cut the power, you grab the Rokkoman and we split.”
“Good, you got the same telex-cable.”
“Wait man, wait, there’s more than that. This inversion last night in Donora? It wasn’t an accident. It may have been helped along by this Rokkoman guy. We tapped a phone call, we’ve been tapping into the phone line at the Bessie plant for months. Something really shaky is going on here. It’s not your imagination.”
FIVE MILE RUN
The man in the trench-coat got out of the trolley at the intersection of Second Avenue and Swinburne. He walked down the sidewalk and under the bridge, which loomed way overhead in the moist darkness. He could hear the music coming from some shitty juke joint on the next corner. A bright red neon sign said ‘Big Joe’s’. He lit up a classic Czech Jaguru Cigaretu, the one with silver trim. He pushed the doors and went inside.
He hung up his coat on a wooden peg and he took a seat at the bar.
“What are you having mister?”
“I’ll have a Roettgut on the rocks.”
The bartender handed him the drink.
Cicero sipped it quietly.
The piano player was not at his piano. A man tapped on his right shoulder.
“Aye me laddie and you would be Sammy?”
Sam turned towards the man. He was a blond-haired freckle-face Irishman with a pale complexion.
“And you would be McGlory?”
“Aye laddie, got a call from me old friend Fast-Bobby in Toledo, and a girl named Jenny in Erie, seems we need to talk.”
“What have ya got?”
“This is bigger than you I’m afraid. There’s a big meetin’ at the Bessie works tonight. My entire band is federal agents except for Alex. He’s actually a Doctor. I’m with British intelligence. We have to make sure that your client is safe no matter what. But your government has several agencies workin’ against themselves with this Rokkoman Naoshimi. He may have caused this poisoning last noight in Donora. He’s got a German named Sol we’ve been lookin’ fer. We just want to make sure the girl is safe at all costs.”
“Who is she?”
“She is the heir to the Han Dynasty. She is the Han baby.” McGlory pulled out an old Hong Kong newspaper clipping from 1926. “Here, read this.”
“DATELINE JIANGXI: Baby born to last known heir of Han dynasty. Ling Mei Guo Han, daughter of Ling Bao Han, grand-daughter of Ling Bao Hsi Han was born February 1, 1926. The mother, Ling Li Han perished in childbirth. The baby will be under the care of her great-grandfather Ling Bao Hsi Li Han of Canton City.”
“How did she get here?”
“The same way the Rokkoman Naoshimi did: ask Paul Lorton and Pat Joshua. If you get the chance.”
“Who is this Rokkoman? He some kind of Jap?”
“He’s a well-connected opportunist. He sold out every bad guy in the Japanese Army at the War Crimes Tribunal in Tokyo. He’d have sold out his own mother if he could have. He can’t go back to Japan, but your government needs him and the new Japanese government needs him so they can talk to your government. It’s quite a mess me laddie.”
“How did a drunken paddy Irishman like you end up in British Intelligence?”
“I didn’t want to spend the rest o’ me life in me father’s frame-shop in Armagh!”
WEST MIFFLIN, PA
The four men spent the night in an abandoned house in West Mifflin. They departed in the Fillmore. They were deep in West Mifflin at a large warehouse. On the outside of the warehouse was a sign that said: “Welcome Thai Boxers!”
The doors opened to a dark foyer. Once they were inside, there was a huge crowd in bleachers on either side of the warehouse. Smoke hung over the room. People yelled, shaking handfuls of colorful ‘Bhat’. They were almost all Japanese or Thai. The Ka-ra-te mat was in the middle. A huge rising Sun flag was on the wall.
“Welcome to the final battle, Hashiri Sakamoto! I will have my revenge!”
The men were escorted to separate rooms under the bleachers. They quickly dressed in their uniforms. The Rokkoman Schmie wore white, the color of evil. Hashiri wore black, the color of good.
An older Thai man with an eye patch walked up to the microphone.
“Welcome, welcome all as-ian brothers! Come one, come all, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Slovak and Sicilian for another exhibition fight brought to you by LeMarco DaVinci Productions! Remember to place your bets after every round! Here we bet bhat! The true color of money!”
Ichi! First Battle: Swords!
Ni! Second Battle: Quarterstaff!
San! Third Battle: Throwing Star
Chi! Fourth Battle: Nunchaku!
Go! Fifth Battle: Knives!
Ro-ku! Final Battle: Ka-ra-te!
Officer Jerry was hunched under the stairs with Officer Colmar.
“I can’t believe it anat! Them got Numchuks anat! I ain’t jagging!”
“This ain’t like no fightin’ I’ve ever seen, some ‘o that crazy oriental fightin’ for sure my laddie!”
“Hajime!” The Thai man yelled. “Make you bets! Show you Bhat!” The competitors bowed low and picked up their traditional swords of the order of the Ronin.
The battle was joined. Each was a master swordsman.
“Ah young one you still remember how to handle the sword! Just like when you beheaded those Australian prisoners!”
The swords crashed together with a load clang.
“Under your orders, evil one!”
“I was only following orders! You make me laugh Hashiri. You are such a hypocrite. You always thought you were so much better than me!”
The swords crashed together again. The battle raged on until the Rokkoman’s sword was broken. Hashiri threw down his sword.
“Ka-mai-i-te! Second Battle! Hajime! Show your Bhat!”
Each picked up a quarterstaff. They crashed together.
“So why did you save the Chinese girl? Were you saving her for yourself?”
“Watch your tongue evil one. I saved her from you!”
“Saved her from me. You idiot. What do you know about anything. I had no interest of that kind in any girl. I am only interested in…”
“Smoking your schmie and eating suchi! You could have been a mighty Ronin, if not for your constant roaking of the vile schmie!”
The battle continued until the quarter-staffs were splintered.
“Ka-mai-i-te! Third Battle! Hajime! Show your Bhat!”
The two fighters launched one star after another. The Rokkoman was grazed in the head. He reached his hand up, then tasted the blood. The stars crashed crazily across the warehouse.
“Ka-mai-i-te! Fourth Battle! Hajime! Show your Bhat!”
“Ah the Nunchaku, let’s see how you do.!”
The two fighters circled each other twirling the Nunchaku.
“Jerry, jeezoman look at dat. Them got them numchuks anat!”
“Aye Frank dis is crazy, I love a good foight, but a bar-foight is better!”
“Yunz paddies love to fight ‘anat.”
“Ka-mai-i-te! Fifth Battle! Hajime! Show your Bhat!”
The men were tired, but they fought on with the sacred knoves. Hashiri was cut badly, but he tightened his rising sun headband and continued to fight.
“Ka-mai-i-te! Take a rest! Pay up! Pay up! Show your Bhat!”
“Jerry we gotta step in soon. I’m gonna fire a warnin’ shot anat-it’s standard procedures! Pistol whip a couple a guys-it’s in the manual! Then you get to work wit’ da nightstick just like you was trained!”
“Nah we better wait ‘anat I ain’t jaggin’ yer wahrz yunz know, I ain’t speaking slavish ‘anat?”
“Huh?” Said a perplexed officer Jerry.
“Hajime! Final battle! Ka-ra-te! Show your bhat! Show your bhat!”
The men circled each other. The battle continued with a series of theatrical, well-aimed kicks and punches. Including the amazing Uwe-yuke-yaka-zuke, sweep kick, and low blocks. The crowd grew to a crescendo. Then the Rokkoman yelled:
He delivered a thunderous Uwe-yu-ke-ya-ka-zu-ki to the defenseless jewels of the weary Hashiri. Hashiri turned pale as a ghost, he staggered, grabbed his crotch and fell to the mat semi-conscious.
The Rokkoman had him down on the ground. The crowd screamed for the death of the vanquished.
“Now you die traitor!” Yelled the Rokkoman and he drew back his fist as he held down the defenseless Hashiri.
“Kill me now, but kill me with honor, we are still both suns of Naoshima!”
The Rokkoman hesitated just a moment when…
Officer Colmar fired his revolver into the air. The Rokkoman dropped Hashiri and ran. The Rokkoman was ushered out by the thin man. The crowd panicked and ran for the door.
Officer O’Valera smashed with his club, cracking skulls and breaking knee-caps. Bhat went flying in the air. For ten minutes the crowd filed out through every available exit. Soon the place was empty except for the officers and the wounded Hashiri.
“I am sorry princess, I have failed.” He muttered to himself with his eyes closed. Then he passed out. The officers dragged him to the squad car.
“Yeah this is Grant 5-niner we got one coming down to Presby, out.”
The Rokkoman’s car raced down the hill and disappeared onto a small dirt access road. He lit up a vile, satanic, hypnotic marihjuana cigarette.
“Close call ja?” The driver said.
“You ran schneller than a GYPSY?” The driver shuddered.
Back at the warehouse a man came up to officer Colmar.
“They kidnapped me and they poisoned Donora! They are going to steal the Bessie Works!”
“I can see, yunz ain’t jagging!”
The cops dragged Hashiri into the squad car and the executive jumped in as well.
They turned on the sirens and raced down the hill towards the Mon.
MT. LEBANON, PA
“It’s time to go.” said Ian.
May, Lynn and Pat headed out to the roadster. They drove towards the City. Pat turned on the radio.
“Welcome to KLV Radio! It’s McKinney! And time again for News, Sports and Weather!”
“But first a word from our sponsor, Botendaddy Soap!”
Tenor: Don’t matter if you stink from Roaking the Schmiee!
Chorus: Don’t matter if you reek from chopping a tree!
Tenor: It don’t matter if your name is Blee!
Chorus: Botendaddy cleans whatever you see!
Tenor: It don’t matter if you’re covered in grime!
Chorus: It don’t matter if your coated in slime!
Tenor: It don’t matter if you’re soaked in pee!
Deep Baritone: Botendaddy Soap can even clean tea!
(c) Botendaddy Soap, all rights reserved
The radio droned on with local news.
“It’s time.” Said May. She caressed the revolver. “It’s just time.”
The Runnamoker Roadster headed down to the West End.
“I hope you know what you’re doing May.” Said Joshua, the sax player.
“We’re in this together, there’s no turning back.” Said Lynn.
“I’ve got you covered.” Said Jerrold, the bass player. “State wants this done so we’re gonna do it.”
“They still think it’s personal. But it’s just business. I need this federal gig if I’m ever gonna make it to Washington.” Said May.
“Be patient little girl. Be patient. All in due time.” Said Lynn. “Remember you’re still my baby.”
POLICE STATION, HEADQUARTERS, PITTSBURGH, PA
The chief put on his uniform and shiny badge. He faced a group of his Lieutenants: Shaughnessy, Flaherty, O’Brien, O’Rourke and Wyczycnzcsky.
“We are going to escort some koind a foreign dignitary. He’s meetin’ down at the Bessie works wit’ the President O’ West-Pittsburgh Steel. We make sure there are no problems.
There’s rumors of an assassin afoot, but all we know is a little note we got from the feds. I wish they’d do their own work. I got a tip that some foreigners caused the inversion in Donora last noight.
I also got a tip that they are trying to extort a contract out of the Bessie Works. For all we know some day these Japanese are gonna take over the Steel Industry and all of Pittsburgh will be out of a job!
“Yeah roight Chief, and I’m sure the Arabs’ll have all the oil, the Krauts will make all the cars and the Chinese will be making all the toys too!”
The policeman all laughed out loud. They headed out to the squad car. The car was painted in the Pittsburgh checkerboard pattern. The car rolled down Ross Street towards Second Avenue with its siren blaring.
NAVY DEPARTMENT, BETHESDA, MARYLAND
“Jules, have a seat. Look I know you’ve been asking for an operational assignment for a long time. You’ve served the Navy well. You’ve represented your people well. President Truman wants to make sure that your people get a fair shake. So we’re giving you your first undercover assignment. We need your engineering skills. We can’t afford to screw this up. The last guy who tried this got jolted. Your going to have to cut the main power line to a Steel plant. I can’t even tell you how dangerous that is. Without your help Paul Lorton will never be able to get in.”
“Did you say Paul Lorton? I know Paul Lorton, from Tacloban! He’s still in the system?”
“He never left the system.”
“Here’s a schematic of the Bates Street-Second Avenue conduit tunnel to the Bessie Works.”
She looked over the blueprints.
“I can do it. But I work alone. You just get me the tools and I can do it.”
“We don’t have a lot of time Jules. You need to know who you’re dealing with. It’s the…Rokkoman…Naoshimi!”
“Oh that pot-head? I guarded him on ship in ’44! How he managed to always get his hands on wacky weed I’ll never know. He ate triple rations every meal. His whole cell always had that smell. We’d search it and never even find a seed. Then, when he was at the War Crimes Tribunal he was still roakin’ the schmie! The man never stops! He is prolific! I will kick his ever-loving ass.”
“You are going to catch the Second Avenue-Saline Street trolley at precisely the time mentioned. You will catch it at Grant and Fourth. You will meet Paul Lorton.”
“Got it, got it, roger, roger. Paul Lorton”
She sighed and slumped in her chair.