Cicero lit up a cigarette. He examined the beautiful, gold-ringed square. It was a Czech Jaguru Cigaretu.
He thought about Lorton. Who was this character? Where did he fit in? All he knew was Lorton was dangerous and quiet, always too quiet, always hiding out in the underbelly of whatever shitty town the world chewed him up and belched him out into.
Cicero pulled a leather folder out of his coat. Inside was a large manila envelope. The envelope had showed up the floor of his new office in Erie a week before. It had been stuffed under the door by persons unknown.
He carefully examined the envelope. He pulled a piece of onion-skin paper out. It was not the lease. He held it up to the light bulb. It was the shitty single bare light bulb which hung from the ceiling of this shitty dilapidated joint.
He had checked into his office that day about a week ago. It was one the 12th floor of 1910 era high-rise. Most of the offices were now vacant. Cicero had gotten a good deal from Swifty Schuermann the realtor. “Is a great deal my boychik I’m tellink you. Is a great, great deal. Schwifty take good care of you my boy.”
He hated leaving Dearborn, but it was time. He hired on an assistant Jenny. He didn’t know much about her other than she always showed up exactly at 9 and left exactly at 5. But she made good coffee and that was good enough. She knew her way around a Johnson-Valdez brand typewriter and she could take dictation. She roaked the same cigarettes and that made life easier. There was something funny about Jenny. She claimed she thought she knew him, but neither could pinpoint just where so they both let it drop. He could see her in a dream dressed in white. Was she a nurse?
He was down in the lobby waiting for the elevator. He looked at the sign board, once filled with a hundred businesses, jewelry stores, watch-shops, law firms. Now almost all gone. A red-headed man with a crew-cut nodded to him and held the elevator door. The man wore two-toned white shoes.
“Hello.” Said Sam.
“Strastvoisdtsye, I am to be meaning to have been saying cchello Drugi, I mean Komrade, I mean friend.”
“How are you doing?”
“Drivink in my car this morning I felt myself excellently.” He responded.
“I bet you did, buddy, I bet you did.”
The man got off on the sixth floor.
“Dasvidanya Ivan.” Said Sam.
“Dasvidanya, I mean to be have saying good bye.” The man corrected himself quickly.
The elevator was an old one, hand-operated. It never seemed to stop exactly even with the floor. He held the crank down and watched the dial rise until it hit twelve. He stopped the elevator about an inch above the twelfth floor. That was close enough. He pulled the gate closed and went up to his office.
The stencil was new. ‘Sam Cicero, Private Investigations’ There was an envelope on the floor. He was expecting the lease so he threw it on his desk.
The document was an official US Army Communiqué. But who gave it to him and why? Who else knew he was on the case? He though back to the red-haired man. He was clearly some kind of a Russian, but he looked military. This was strange. There weren’t many people in the building. Could he have left the envelope? He made a mental note of the man’s face and the white shoes.
20 December 1946
Headquarters US Pacific Command
United States Army Theatre Intelligence Section
Hokkaido, Japanese Empire
1. As follows:
2. Naoshima (Naoshima-chō) is an island town administratively part of Kagawa District, Kagawa, Japan located in the Seto Inland Sea.
3. Actual Name of Subject: Rokkoman Naoshima.
4. Failed to protect a small village where he was a young Ronin in the late 1920s. Subject was found incapacitated with a large Japanese Hookah pipe. Disgraced the order of the Ronin and was never made Samurai. Became an infantry officer in the Imperial Japanese Army at Honshu 1931.
5. Made the rank of Colonel by 1944.Responsible for several massacres of civilians in Nanking in 1937. Commanded a POW camp in the Philippines. His Lieutenant and closest confidant was a Lieutenant Hashiri Sakamoto also from the Island of Naoshima.
6. Known to the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal of 1946 as the ‘Rokkoman of Naoshima’ or bastardized in English as the Rokkoman-Shmii. He is large for a Japanese 6’2′ 240 pounds considered extremely violent and borderline psychotic.
7. Sentenced to 20 years hard labor on the rock pile of Okinawa, but suspiciously disappeared from a Marine transport while under OSS escort while it was docked in Hokkaido in November 1946.
8. Name of OSS escort: Major Paul Lorton. Whereabouts unknown. Warrant issued by US Strategic Intelligence Command Ft. Leavenworth Kansas. Lorton is to be considered unpredictably violent and extremely dangerous. Do not approach alone or without a weapon.
FOR THE COMMANDER
Cicero took a long roak on his cigarette. He preferred the term ‘roak’ to smoke. Cicero liked to study at the old library in Erie. His specialty was old English dialects. There he learned there was an old Anglo-Saxon verb ‘Reocan’ similar to the German ‘Rauchen’ to smoke or the Dutch ‘Rieken’. Shakespeare talked of the ‘Roaky Wood’ in his plays.
Cicero got through a year of School in the night program at Gannon on the GI bill after the War. He never followed through though. Maybe one day.
Clearly someone else was on the trail of this Rokkoman Schmiee. Why else would he get this document–but from whom did it come? It made sense but it didn’t make sense. Did someone want him to find the Rokkoman Schmie? Was Lorton on his trail or was Lorton trailing Cicero too? Someone connected with the Dame wanted him to find the Schmie and also to know that Lorton was a bad actor. They clearly wanted Lorton out of the way or put off the trail so they could get to the Schmie themselves.
“This is a good cigarette!” Cicero said to himself.
RYUKU-MAN VILLAGE, NAOSHIMA ISLAND JAPAN
Fierce riders were seen galloping across the hillside. The farmers ran through the village gate.
‘They are coming to the village! They will steal everything and kill the men! Who will defend us?’
‘Find the Ronin! They are our only hope!’
The farmers set out for the edge of the village. There lived three Ronin and one Samurai. Sakomoto was the Samurai.
‘Sakomoto-san, you must help us the raiders are coming!’ The farmer bowed very low.
‘Heiss!’ Grunted Sakomoto.
‘Boy hand me my robe and my sandals!’ He said to his young son.
Young Hashiri brought the items to his father as he was asked.
Sakomoto looked around. ‘Why do I only have two Ronin? Why do I always only have two Ronin! Someone find that lazy devil Rokkoman and bring him to me! He is a curse to me! He could be the greatest Ronin, but he spends all of his time in the Roaking-Hut and eating rice crackers.’
Hashiri ran as quickly as he could to the Roaking-Hut. Inside was the Rokkoman. The Rokkoman’s eyes were glazed over and he was inhaling from a traditional Naoshimi island water pipe, but the smell was not the sweet smell of tobacco, but a drier, more acrid smell. The boy wiped at the air to clear the smoke.
‘My god Rokkoman, what are you doing! The bandits are coming!’
‘Ah young Hashiri! Have you got any sushi? Rice Crackers maybe? I am hungry!’
‘Rokkoman! You must come now, my father is angry, the marauders are approaching now!’
They could hear the horses crashing into the village the sounds of a great battle could be heard. The Rokkoman took another Roak on the pipe. He tried to stand up but then fell over.
Finally the Rokkoman stood up and dressed himself. He brought his sword outside of the hut, but the battle was over. The Samurai and his two Ronin had swiftly defeated the fifteen horsemen.
The Samurai turned towards the Rokkoman.
‘You are a disgrace Rokkoman Naoshimi! Look at you! You could have been Samurai! You have dishonored the village and you have dishonored the Ronin, you have dishonored me and you dishonor the Emperor!’
The Rokkoman dropped his head and he bowed low to the Samurai.
‘I am deeply sorry Sakomoto-san, I will try to do better. I just got wrapped up in my roaking.’
‘Roaking! That habit will be the end of you fool! Put down the devil leaf and live a clean life. Now I banish you!
Go and take my son with you. He is soft and sentimental, but he has a sense of duty and honor. You are strong and vicious but lazy and self-serving. You will teach him cunning and strength and he will teach you duty and honor. You must leave the village and not return until you have both redeemed yourselves! That is all’
Hashiri and the Rokkoman bowed low. Hashiri’s mother cried.
IMPERIAL JAPANESE HEADQUARTERS, NAOSHIMA REGIMENT, NANKING, CHINA
1937 Nanking was in flames.
Captain Naoshima received his new Lieutenant. Lieutenant Hashiri. This was a proud day for the Rokkoman. His young protégé now had a university education and a Commission in the Army of the Empire of Japan. The sun rose over the sea as the two officers stood by the water.
‘Aha you see it now Hashiri! The rising sun welcomes you! I sense victory over these Chinese devils! They are weak and soft like an old woman. Not strong and virile like a Japanese soldier! Ah our reunion is a great day for the Empire. Someday we will show them back in Naoshima! They are all women in Naoshima! Weaklings! I urinate on all of them! Look at us now! We are officers of Imperial Japan! Who needs Ronin! Ah hah hah!’
Across the city, an old Chinese man spoke to his daughter. She was not his daughter by blood but he had been her caretaker since 1926 when the baby was brought to him. She was the last descendant of the imperial throne of the Han dynasty. The survival of the baby was the survival of China itself. The old man had sent many years in the imperial court.
‘Mei Guo, my dear child. Many hard days are ahead of you.’
She bowed her head low. She knew that she would have to leave him.
‘I am an old man. My time on earth will end soon. I saw it in a dream. I lost my own children. I lost my wife and children when we were young. I never loved anyone as deeply as I have loved you my child. You are the moon and the stars to me. Most of all you are China.
You must do one thing and you must swear it to me out of honor: No matter what, no matter where you are, no matter how hard it is, no matter what pain you suffer, you must survive.
Go to the New Kingdom across the sea for which you are named and find a man named Cicero. He is a sailor and he has been my friend since 1900 when I met him at the docks at Guangzhou during the Boxer Rebellion. He lives next to the inland sea called Mich-i-gan. Go now my child.’
The little girl nodded. She girl hugged the old man tightly. Tears welled up in her eyes. She felt the jade dragon necklace she had given him when she was a little girl.
‘I love you Pin. You are the only father I have ever known. I fear for you.’
‘Don’t fear for me my child. I have a role I have to play and so do you. I am an old man now. Once I was young, but now I have one last duty to my ancestors to fulfill. Do not be afraid. Do not ever be afraid of anyone, anywhere. You are the last princess and the last charge of the Imperial House of China-Han. I must do as the Empress Dowager instructed me. Now go and do as I instruct you. I will be fine. Go my child and take my blessing. I saw in my dreams that you will first go to a jungle Island and then you will go to the Great Inland Sea.’
She hugged the old man one last time and she ran into the street. She didn’t know where she was going or how she would get to the new Kingdom.
Then came the air raid sirens and the planes came. Buildings exploded and burned around her. People ran in panic. Smoke billowed from the center of the city. She ran down one street following one crowd then another. Then she ran across the old bridge and she realized that the crowd was gone.
She was pulled into a truck and she was now face-to-face with pure evil. The savage Rokkoman Schmie. But she steeled herself. She had to remember the promise-to survive no matter what.
April 3, 1900. The merchant marine boat ‘Wadup Blee’ chugged past Shamian Island. All of the sailors were on deck getting ready to dock. Cicero had never been to China before. He was a new sailor. The boat had traveled down the coast from Alaska and had stopped in the Philippines to resupply the troops. He looked out over the bustle on the island, the masses of people, the well-dressed European diplomats, the Chinese shopkeepers.
‘Prepare to drop anchor’
Cicero ran to his station.
The boat was soon docked and Cicero spent most of the day working with the other sailors to unload the vessel.
He got liberty that night and he decided to take a walk into Canton City.
He stopped at a French Club: ‘Le Cafe Je m’en Contrefiche’. The club was filled with the usual, hookers, madams, addicts, pimps, pushers, sailors, diplomats and politicians.
He had quaffed a few draughts when an Italian sailor came running into the bar.
“They’re coming! They killin’ alla da Westerners! You gotta get out now!”
Cicero looked out into the street. It was chaos, fires burning, people screaming the sound of gunshots. Both ends of the street were blocked by rioters.
“Follow me now people! Follow me now!”
Cicero hesitated, but one of the old China Sailors said: “It’s Pin he’s OK. He works at the docks.”
The westerners followed Pin out the back door and up a stairway. They ran through the streets as foreigners were being stabbed and slaughtered by angry mobs. They turned down one alley then another, sometimes turning back, sometimes to the left or right.
Pin found a path that took them over the roofs to the canal on the next street. The men ran behind Pin as he guided them to a wooden footbridge back to Shamian Island.
‘I owe you my life Chinaman!’ Said Cicero.
‘It was my pleasure to help you my friend. I saw this all in a dream once. My ancestors have always guided me through dreams.’
‘Well that’s good. But what will you do now?’
‘I don’t know. If I go back I will face the wrath of the Empress Dowager. It will be my head.’
‘Well get ready to go to sea. My name is Vittorio.’
‘I am Pin.’
The men ran to the bay as Canton burned behind them. They ran up the gangplank, back onto the ‘Wadup Blee’ .
The sailors cast off and the boat was on its way carrying many terrified refugees.
‘You smoke Pin?’ Asked Vittorio.
‘I picked these up in Europe. I was there last year. I think they are called Cigaretu.’
Pin took a long roak. He nodded approvingly to Vittorio.
You know Pin, for a Chinaman you are an unusually good-looking uomo! Non e credibile!’
Pin gave Vittorio a worried look.
“If you want that black leaf, son you’ll do it. Your country needs you. You are the right man for the job.”
“All I do is bail out bad guy Japs and Nazis, What the hell did we fight these people for General?”
The General took a long roak on his Havana.
“Son, wars come and go, enemies come and go. Hell we fought the Brits, now we’re best friends. We fought the ___-damned Indians and now they’re all in the ___-damned cavalry! We got a new enemy now, that shitty red sonofabitch Ivan. He’s got infiltrators everywhere. We’ve got a leak and we’ve got to find it. You’re gonna use the Rokkoman idiot as the bait. I don’t give a rat’s hairy testicles about Krauts or Nips, but I want that ___-damned Yuri!’
The general leaned in an inch from Lorton’s face.
“You’ll do it monkey-boy because you always do it. You know you want that black leaf, you’d give anything for it.”
Lorton bowed his head low. He took a long roak on his Roakanoake brand cigarette.
“I’ll do it sir, because I’ve been doing it since France. I always do it. I do it sir, because I’m an American and I still think America stands for something good and decent. But the doors are closing on me. I’m running out of time you know this as well as I do. I want that Regimental XO job if I pull this off.”
The General laughed.
“That’ll be too damn easy son, too damn easy.”
GREENFIELD HILL, PITTSBURGH
Lynn looked at the picture of her son. He was gone since he was killed in action with the 42nd in Buna in 1942. He was her only son and the only child she would ever have.
Ian always blamed himself. Blamed himself for having the pictures from World War I in the album. Blamed himself for setting the example for the baby by staying in the Army. Blamed himself for letting the baby play with his old equipment from the Great War. Now it was too late and nothing could be done about it. The Doctrine of Unrecoverable Error. His only child was dead and it was his fault and nothing would ever change that.
He only did one thing that made the pain of the memory burn a little less. It was May. The little girl that Paul Lorton brought back to him from the Pacific. Ian’s son was Lorton’s only nephew, he had no children. He knew that May might heal the pain just a little.
Lynn welcomed the bright little Chinese girl into her home. She had arrived when she was 17 and very shy. She rarely made eye contact, but she spoke English well. English that she had learned from American and British POW’s in the Philippines.
After a year, May was now her child and she and Lynn were very close. Lynn liked shopping for May and teaching her about America. May wanted to be American and look American.
But May had a hidden place that was known only to herself. She was a confident smart young woman now, attending the University of Toledo-Lakeside Campus. Only in Lynn would she confide her deepest secrets and dreams. Lynn guarded her jealously, always with the fear that came from losing the first one. Her deepest fear was the fire that consumed May. The fire for revenge. She sympathized, but she didn’t think anything was worth losing May. But, she would stand by her no matter what.