A solitary figure sat on a shitty wooden bench inside the empty train station. He was reading a two week-old Youngstown News-Intelligencer Newspaper. A character like him didn’t keep track of time anyway. He thumbed through the tobacco finger-smudged ratty paper. The news was always the same. He calmly took a long sweet-hot roak on a Roakanoake cigarette. The acrid nicotine-stoked, hypnotic fumes filled his lungs. The kind of roak that would have burned a hole in the lungs of an average Joe. He cocked his head, then he eyed the butt for a second. He tossed it on the floor and ground it in with his right shoe.
A cool, moist wind blew in through the open windows of the station. He was OK with cool. He hated hot weather. He couldn’t stand the feel of heat. He had spent too much time in too many shitty hot, humid places and enough was enough. Sometimes even on cool days the memory of the heat would come back to him and he would start to sweat.
On the floor next to his feet was a shitty typewriter box and a small briefcase. An outline of a gat could be seen through his suit jacket. He hadn’t shaved for three days, but the outline of a long, ugly scar could be seen down the side of his neck. He closed his eyes and drifted off. In his mind’s eye, it came back again, it always came back:
He was stranded at a transit point on some small Island in the South Pacific. He was out of the war for now. He could get some decent grub. Read a newspaper. Relax a little bit. He would wash his clothes with a couple of shitty canteens of bacteria-stoked water. He sat by the ocean for a while looking at the ships. He shouldn’t still be in the service after all these years, he thought. Why he was still in, even he didn’t know. He was chasing something. His dad killed savage redskin Indian braves. His grand-father shot shitty, hairy, shrieking rebel Confederates and so on back to the revolution.. His namesake, Paul Lorton of Breuklynne, Captain of Artillery against the shitty, foppish twit redcoats. Lorton lit up another roak, this time a Fijian blend. It didn’t matter. He had his orders and he waited on the Island for his team to be assembled. He had hand-picked this team from soldiers he had worked with on Buna. He needed determined jungle fighters who could take the heat, the humidity, the insects and still come out on top. These weren’t common men. They were thinkers, contemplative cold-blooded killers. One of them was a little too cool. That was Pat Joshua. He knew Pat since the Great War. He was a green kid back then, with a funny accent. He took a long alluring roak on his cigarette. He deeply inhaled the sweet, leafy fumes. The calm would not last forever. Destination: Philippines.
He awoke with a start. He cold and felt clammy, the way you always feel when you sleep in your suit. The sleep wasn’t restful and his bones ached.
“Track 11, Beaver Falls, Pittsburgh, McKeesport, Track 11, 15 minutes until departure.” Croaked the nearly unintelligible loudspeakers.
He sat up, groggy. He missed sleep. He always missed sleep. He needed to get on the train, get back in the warmth, sleep a few more hours and then get to some shitty, fleabag, downtown hotel. He straightened up his suit and he walked over to the platform. Not many people catching the train this early. He searched his pockets for the ticket. It was always in his left pocket when his left hand was filled. He grabbed the ticket, looked it over and he boarded the train. It was near-empty. He grabbed a seat by the window. The lights were lowered at this time of the A.M. He sat in the back corner by the window. He soon fell into a half-sleep when it came back again…
TACLOBAN, JAP-OCCUPIED PHILIPPINES
Tacloban, near Leyte, Philippines, 28 October 1944.
It was just inland. This place could have been a beautiful tropical paradise with palm trees, coconuts, parrots, but instead, it was a bombed-out burned-out shit-hole that stank of death and human excrement. There were black scars where shells had exploded. Gaps were torn in the jungle flora.
Lorton was with the rest of his team crowded around the Regimental Commander at the base of a big palm. There was Ace, Blau, Ricardo, Meeps and Wilcox.
“You all let me in on what you’re gonna do. I’ve got a lot of people I’m responsible for.” Said the Regimental Commander.
He had been around a long time and he didn’t like complications in his sector. In the Great War it was easier. Allies on one side, Krauts on the other. He took a long roak on his cigar, it was a Cuban, a Hernando-Perez, his favorite brand. He had spent many good days in Cuba between the wars. He stroked his massive grey mustache as his mind drifted back to the cabana.
He gestured towards the sea where a long line of troops laden with heavy packs were debarking landing craft. A large flotilla of ships was behind them. Puffs of smoke could be seen from the ships as they bombarded the inland. There was a high pale blue sky with scattered clouds. American Navy fighters circled overhead with a distant mosquito-like buzz.
The tall man looked up and peered over his glasses at the Colonel.
“Roger, sir, got it, got it. Here’s the scoop, got scoop. We are looking for a Jap Commander, a young Colonel. Can’t say his name right now, not right now. He’s bad news, bad news. Mistreated our POWs pretty bad, bad. Don’t like it…don’t like it… Personally beheaded some Australians, with his shitty Jap sword. His troops violated American and Dutch nurses in ’41, violated, violated. Turned their hospital into a comfort hospital. This shitty Rokkoman has been involved in worse stuff in China that I am not at liberty to disclose. He’s a sonofabitch, and our people want him bad, real bad.”
“Make sure you’re worked into our plan Major, for three reasons.”
The old Colonel took a long, luxurious roak on his sweet Havana cigar.
“Sir that smells like a Hernando-Perez brand Cigar. I used to roak those when I was in Havana.”
The Colonel gave the Major a funny look over his furrowed hairy eyebrow. He raised one finger as he made each point.
“Look son, it breaks down in this fashion –
One: we gotta look out for your people. This is serious business. We don’t want to lose track of you in this jungle.
Two: we don’t want the bombers to blow you away.
Three: we don’t want fratricide-have your boys and my boys run into each other by mistake and start shooting.”
“No problem sir. Roger, roger, got, it got it.” The Major began to sweat profusely. He slapped at the mosquitoes on the back of his neck.
The Major took a long hot sensuous drag on a Roakanoke Cigarette. He cocked his head and peered at the butt for a second, then he ground it into the earth with his right boot. He pulled a folded onion-skin paper out of his pocket and he handed it to the Colonel.
The Colonel opened the paper. He glanced at it, then he narrowed in on the document. This was serious, from the shitty brass-hats. A breeze made the paper flutter, then it almost blew out of his hand. He read slowly to himself, mumbling.
AGENCY: DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
CLASSIFICATION: TOP SECRET
PROPONENT: OFFICE OF STRATEGIC SERVICES
OFFICE: DULLES, JOHN FOSTER
DATE: 3 JULY 1944
SUBJECT: NAOSHIMA, ROKKOMAN
TO: MAJOR PAUL LORTON, CAVALRY, OSS
1. Leyte Gulf, Philippines, Naoshima, Rokkoman approach with extreme caution. Take alive at all costs.
2. Has with him, a descendant of Chinese Han Dynasty, Ling Mei Guo. Take alive at all costs.
3. Nothing Follows.
FOR THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF
JOHN FOSTER DULLES
“Jeez. When were you planning to tell me about this, Major? This came from Dulles for heaven’s sake.”
“Now sir, right now. Roger, roger, got it, got it.”
He moved the pack of Roakanoake cigarettes towards the Colonel. The Colonel threw his Cigar-butt onto the ground. The Colonel took one and the Major lit it for him. The Colonel peered at the Major.
“I know you son. The Colonel said, pointing at Lorton. I know you. You were at Varennes. You were a dough-boy in the 28th, you were just a kid. Your brother was an LT in the same Division. I was a Captain with the 35th. I served with Captain Harry S. Truman.”
The Major looked long and hard at the Colonel.
“Yes you were sir, yes you were. Roger, roger, got it, got it. I remember you sir, remember, remember. Infantry from St. Jo. Missouri.”
“I hope you know what the hell you’re doing son. Godspeed. And take one of these.”
The Colonel handed him a Cigar.
Lorton looked over the cigar. It was good.
“Roger, roger, got it, got it.”
The Major saluted and then he turned towards his team. They huddled for a minute in the tall, green elephant grass. Then, they checked each others’ gear, lined up and set off into the jungle behind him. The Major knelt at the front of the patrol. He carefully examined his rifle. It was the same rifle he carried in the Great War. He pulled a map out of his shirt. He oriented the compass. He stood up again. He looked at his cigarette and took one last roak. Then he threw the butt down and ground it into the sand with his boot.
Thomas checked in on his girls. Two of them were working tonight. They were lined up on the couch in the lobby of the shabby Lake Hotel. The hotel had seen better days. Back at the turn of the century it was probably a nice joint. Now holes and cracks were covered over with decades of shitty paint. Even the once-proud wooden mouldings were covered with drab white paint. The faux-Persian carpet was probably original, worn down from years of use.
Each girl was reading a fashion magazine. They were dressed like tawdry little tramps. They were dirty, failed, fallen girls from shitty homes and shitty little washed up lake towns. No-one cared what happened to them or where they went. A couple of them were older, dirtier girls. Washed-up, with no shred of dignty or self-respect. They were filthy, their stocking and short skirts were encrusted with god-knows-what. The old ones were always favorites of his younger clients. Maybe it didn’t matter, but in his own mind there were worse places for girls to end up than turning tricks in a shitty American lake-town for some two-bit gypsy pimp.
Thomas walked passed the drunken sleeping concierge who snored like a piss-drunk rotten old bum. Thomas quietly ascended the darkened, dried-out shitty broken stairs to the third floor of the hotel room. It wasn’t a great place, but in America even the shitty places were like paradise compared to what was left of Europe. He came to the top of the stairs and he looked around, no-one was in the hallway.
It was very quiet except for music coming from a radio down the hall, it sounded like an old Swing Tune, ‘Wicked Summer Knights’ from the Raffoon label. Thomas knocked on the shitty wooden door. There was no answer. He opened the door. The room was empty. There was an envelope on the bed. Thomas picked it up and put it into his suit pocket. He noticed the window was still open to the fire escape. He walked over and shut the window. He looked around, then he turned off the light and closed the door.
Thomas leaned back against the wall. He looked around again to make sure no-one was there. He opened his wallet. Inside was a wad of cash and an old black and white photograph. He stared at the picture for a long time. He caressed it with his fingers. His eyes grew red. It was a girl. A dark-eyed girl with raven-black hair standing in front of a fountain in Budapest. But she was gone and he was here and it all didn’t matter anymore. Everybody was gone, his mother, father, family, friends and nobody here knew and nobody cared and it didn’t matter.
“I will come to you soon, my darling. I will come to you someday. We won’t be apart forever.” He whispered to himself. Thomas hand caressed the gun in his pocket. He pulled out the glistening ice-cold sensuous piece of metal. He pressed the barrel of the Parabellum against his temple. Then he saw her again in his mind’s eye and he put the gat back in his pocket,
BUDA AND PESCZT, NAZI-OCCUPIED HUNGARY
“Tomasz, take the piwcture, what are youw waiting for?”
“It has to be just right you know. I want a pictuwre I can keep forever you know. It has to be perfewct.”
“Down’t be sentimental Tomasz you foowl. Take the pictuwre. I can no stawnd here all day!”
“What’s the rush my lady, is good, is wery good.”
The young couple boarded the trolley. Tomasz had the camera around his neck. They each grabbed a strap and hung on as the trolley rolled forward towards the bridge to Pest.
“You are silly Tomascz, it seems to me you don’t know that the War will be here soon, and we will all be caught up in it.”
“Why do you always worry about such big things. If it comes here it won’t bother us!”
“So you say Tomasz, you think because you are a Gypsy that nothing can touch you. Well it can touch you and if you’re not careful it will.”
“So much doowm and gloowm, lady, So much doowm and gloowm. We live today, we die tomorrow. Ten years from now who know the difference?”
“She crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. You will know the difference. You will know the difference. You gypsies always manage to survive and then tell the story.”
“Let’s go to the Varosliget Park and take a wawlk.”
They got off the trolley and took a stroll. She climbed up on a wall and walked a little bit above him as they approached the tunnel path.
“You know I am in love with youw?” He half-asked.
“I know, do you do you want dis…boddee?”
Tomasz looked up at the girl. She leapt off the wall and into his arms.
“Of course I want dis boddee!”
The two lovers walked through the tunnel.
“You marry the gypsy some day, no?”
“Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know if I like you that much.”
“Oh pleawse, of course you like me, I like youw?”
“You are silly Tomascz, I hope we last long enough to get marriewd someday.”
“So you will marry me someday?”
“No of course not!” She said grabbing his hat off of his head and running out of the tunnel.”
Thomas looked up. He was back in Erie. No matter how much he dreamed it he could never leave. He only had his memories and he would never be back there again. He closed his eyes for a minute, then he put the picture back into his wallet. He stood for a long time in the hallway not wanting to go back downstairs.
Cicero was back in Dearborn. He leaned with both palms on the windowsill, looking across the shitty, industrial, brown wasteland. The office was barren and cleaned out, but the phone was still live until the end of the month. He needed a place to make a call and this was the only place left. He reached under the now-empty desk where there was an envelope full of cash. He sat down in the chair. He picked up the huge receiver on the flat-black cobalt phone.
“Operator, how may I help you sir and or madam?
Yes, I need ERie 5-2368.
“Is this person to person or station to station?”
“Station to station.”
“Connecting, please stand by.”
“The phone rang loudly and coarsely in his ear. He lit up a cigarette, it was a Soo-brand. Soos were a prime tobacco, grown in the long Michigan Upper Peninsula growing season.
“Have you got any scoop?”
“I’ve got scoop. This piano player, this shitty McGlory isn’t what he seems to be. He mentioned some place in Ireland when I asked where he was from. Seems it’s a place in Armagh, up North where British Intelligence had an office. There’s something fishy about the rest of his band too. Seems the sax player and the bass player were both in the Army together- and are still in the Army. They’re definitely connected to this girl. They stay in a place called Mt. Lebanon. I told McGlory that you’ld be looking for him at some point.”
“Good work, kid, good work.”
He put the phone back down and he put his feet up on the desk for the last time. He had this office since ’46, but all things come to an end. He took a long sweet, passionate roak on his cigarette inhaling the soothing nicotine deep into his lungs.
BUDA AND PESCZT, NAZI-OCCUPIED HUNGARY
The commands were barked at them in loud, angry German voices.
The women were herded on to a train car.
Tomasz tried to join her, but he was held back by Waffen SS Guards.
“Hold that one for me! Shouted a tall thin Nazi Officer.”
“JaWohl, but vy Mein Colonel?”
“Because.” The officer said He is..a GYPSY!” He briskly slapped the sergeant across the face with a resounding erotic crack.The German Officer shuddered and then regained control of himself.
“He vill komm mit me!”
“I will find you!, I will find you!”” Tomasz yelled to her as he strained against the brutal Nazi guard. She looked back at him one time and the doors of the train car closed.
“It is too late.” She yelled back. “I’m sorry, but it’s just too late!”
The train whistle blew and the train lurched forward, slowly sensuously the train pumped it’s way along the track billowing acrid black fumes that concealed its escape from the station.
Tomasz was then struck unconscious by a blow from the butt end of an 1898 Parabellum TM(r)(c) pistol.
SOMEWHERE IN NAZI-OCCUPIED ROMANIA
Tomasz awoke to find himself in the damp dungeon of an ancient castle. It smelled of ancient death and tortures so medieval that Vlad the impaler would be proud. A man was sitting on the floor next to him.
“Welcome to reality my friend, my name is Browscz, but they call me the Gypsy. Do you roawk the cigaretu? I have Czech cigaretu, very strong tar and nicotine, it will coat your lungs with healthy happiness!”
Despite the hand irons, he was able to pass Tomasz a square. Tomasz was groggy from being beat up, but he looked down to examine the cigarette.
“Oh yes, friend, is a Jaguru, a wery good Czech brawnd of cigaretu you know. It has the prized gold label, good Indian Tobacco from Hyderabad. Some say we Roma come from India. Who knows.”
“Listen, they will put you to work here, young gypsy boy. You have two choices, survive or survive. There are no too many of us left you know. The day of the gypsy is fading away in the Neue Europa. I sink mawybe they are going to kill us all eventuawlly. We are excess people. We never fit in. They don’t like that in Europa. We dance to our own music. Oh well, it doesn’t matter if they kill us all. There will always be someone else to hate, to kill. Is humawn nature my friend.”
“You cheer me up so much my friend, in the old gypsy way. What is life but one tragic, fatalistic disaster with an utter loss of hope and Huwman dignity? Of course, can all be drowned out with appealing smoke from good delicious Czech cigaretu, no? My name is Tomasz. Can you light this roak for me? Where da hell are we anyway?”
“We are in Romawnia my friend, in de mountains. This is wery old, old castle. The shitty ‘Krucci’ have it now, they use as headquarters. The Colonel here, he a baron, wery strange man. He loves gypsies. Sweet young gypsy boys he like the best, oh yes, the sweet-hot, young, sensuous gypsy boy, oh yes. He will use you to watch the women. He has other plans for me, but I don’t know what. If you get out of here my friend, I have a wife, or I had a wife once and a little girl. They are in America now. I don’t know if I ever get there. You go to their house and tell them you a friend of sexy-Browscz. Remember this address: 12 Mill Street, Youngstown, Oh-Hiwo.”
“Where in da hell is dat?”
“Ah Ohio. Paradiso on Earth. The greatest, most wondrous place in the world! Is near the big lake. You can find it, no problem. Tell them you see me when I was still alive. Tomasz?”
“Jes Browscz. I know forget a fellow traveler. You remind me of my uncle with the old circus in Bratislava.”
“I don’t want my little girl to grow up to be a gypsy, Tomascz. Is too hard. I want her to be an American.”
“You have a little girl? Anyway, I had a lady-friend. Wanted to make her wife of gypsy. America, I wonder what is like? I meet an American once when I was little boy. He was wery nice, talk to you like you a human being instead of a dirty, smelly gypsy.”
“Jes Tomascz, jes. Americans very polite you know and strong like Water Buffalo.”
The two men roaked in silence for a minute inhaling the calming nicotine and tar deep into their yielding desirous lungs.
“I think I like to go to America one day Browscz. I find your family. Gypsy live good in this Ohio no? In my mind I see Ohio like great city in biblios. Beautiful place with beautiful woman and good food, big cars like gangsters in cinema. Fantastic buildiwng one thousand feet tall. Big movie theatres. Ohio have streets paved with gold no?”
“Da Tomascz, it true I seen piwctures. Is like Prague in springtimes. High culture in Ohio. Great museuwm and symphony like Vienna. Huge farms like the Ukraine.”
“I have to see dis Ohio. Must be great place. Good people in Ohio, eh? No hate gypsy.”
Cicero lit up a Roak. He thought over the latest clues, something didn’t add up. The wild card was McGlory. If he was from Britain what was he doing in the U.S. and of all places a little hole in the wall in 5 mile run. It was awfully close to the Bessie works. And, close enough to Mt. Lebanon. Who was in this band? Why was McGlory so accessible? Cicero began to smell a rat. A dirty, filthy, drunken, fighting, shitty Irish rat.