A gleaming black staff Mercedes dispatched from the German Embassy brought Arnold Toht to the aristocratic residence perched high on the hills outside Hong Kong. As the car started up the drive, it abruptly pulled aside onto the pristine lawn. All was idle and tranquil. On the far edge of the lawn a bent old man shuffled among several white board beehives that had been placed strategically amidst the lush garden that ran around the lawn’s perimeter. The gnarled old man was seemingly oblivious to the small contingent that emerged from the car. Rather it was the bees, coursing about to and fro and agitated from a long hot September day, that commanded the old man’s attention.
Toht wiped the sweat from his brow – and tried with every once of inner resolve to not betray his agitation. The old man worked surrounded by a formidable swarm but chose to not wear a bee suite or other protective gear. The old man was impervious to danger thought Toht; he was boot leather. After a long minute it became clear that if Toht were to obtain the counsel that he sought, he too would have to cross into the bees’ domain unprotected.
As Toht set off across the lawn, he signaled for his men to stay put. One man, nodded and said, “Ja, doch.” [“Yes, of course.”]
Toht stiffened but continued on across the simmering lawn. He braced himself as he passed though the bees’ outer ranks to stand before the old man. The old man, however, ignored Toht – even though Toht knew that his presence was known. Instead the old man continued about his business. Bees swarmed around Toht, seemingly sensing his fear.
Finally, the old man spoke without looking up. “Your man – he spoke German just now, yes?”
Toht shot a grim look back toward the car. “Yes, he did.”
“You know the rules. Only English is spoken outdoors. If you were under my command, I would relieve you right now.”
Toht simply shook his head and took a small side-step away from a threatening bee.
“You’ve gone soft working for Himmler’s supposed academics.”
“As always I defer to your judgment. I lost Jones in Manila.”
“Any thought on that curator back in the States? Your men haven’t lost him too have they?”
“No, we are very much engaged with him – we have all of the curator’s documents pertaining to Ravenwood – but he knows nothing of Ravenwood’s present whereabouts.”
The old man nodded and gave a good shove to a hive. Agitated bees issued out, increasing exponentially the size of the alarming swarm. After an interminable pause the old man stood frozen, as if waiting for some signal, and then croaked, “Think. Out of Manila, what were your quarry’s options?”
Exasperated, Toht slapped his handkerchief against his dark heavy coat hoping to shoo the bees – but instantly he regretted the action as it seemed to draw the swarm’s attention to him. “For all I know he’s still in Manila. . .”
“You waste my time.” The old man looked past Toht to one of the hives almost as if he were looking for some assistance. “If you thought your man was still there, then you would still be there too. Again. What were his options out of Manila?”
Toht narrowed his eyes, resentful for having to go through the paces like a school boy at his lessons. The old man knew Asia better than the Brits who pretended to rule the land. And the bees’ hum increased about him as they bounced about off his person. “Another flight to Hong Kong. A mail plane to either Shanghai or Hanoi. Or he could have found passage on a ship to any number of locations -- Hanoi, Shanghai, Bangkok or any port on Maylaya.”
Walking away from Toht, the old man spoke over his shoulder, “Your report says your quarry boarded a plane at the Manila airport bound for Hong Kong. Yet your quarry was not onboard when it landed. Tell me the significance of this. What caused your quarry’s abrupt change of plans?
“That’s simple.” Toht leered at the tall, mustached man back by the car – the same man who broke protocol by speaking German moments before. “My quarry knew that he was being watched.”
“Indeed. Now, how does that fact impact your analysis?”
“He would not likely leave by air. He would assume that the airports were being watched.”
“At last, progress. So if he were to leave by ship, would he seek passage close to his ultimate destination or some other port?”
“No, he would not want to be on a slow ship for long. Jones wants his prize. He would travel by ship as short of distance as possible so that he could get back on a plane . . . which means. . . .”
“Shanghai. My bet would be Shanghai.”
Something that could only have been a multitude of bees crawled up the back of Toht’s neck. With every ounce of impossible self-control Toht fought the urge to brush away the threat. “So I should go to Shanghai?”
“And risk again being left one step behind?” The old man spat in disgust. “Remember, by time you get to Shanghai your quarry will likely have already left.”
Toht finally succumbed and brushed in near panic at his neck. He paid the price. As he ducked to leave, stung more than once, he said, “I will go inland and intercept Jones there.”
“Stop!” For the first time the old man showed some emotion.
Hurt and overtaken by bees, Toht forced himself to a halt in the middle of the lawn. The bees continued their attack.
“This Doctor Jones, he killed your brother, yes?”
Toht, ashamed of himself, shrieked out as he attempted to fight off his attackers, “Yes! He did.”
The old man nodded. “You go now Arnold, find your quarry and complete your mission – but do not let yourself be distracted. Do not get too involved.”
Toht ran off across the grass – wounded and angry he tumbled back into the Mercedes.
The old man stood silent, satisfied. Already, Toht’s little mission was completely gone from his mind as he reveled in his bees. It was during quiet moments like this, the day’s last light, when he gloated most over how the buzzing merged perfectly with the sound of the generators; the generators that powered his sprawling intelligence operations in the massive bunker directly underfoot – over thirty feet below.
[I've been sitting on this due to the down time -- just small little change of pace]
hmhmmmm. . . . that came out of left field Joe, nice work as always. I see tieing 3TU into red line, nice touch! Good to see good ol' Thot in action. I like it, I am glad you are giving some side storyy to Brody. Good job, as always I can not wait for more.
“To a successful journey,” said Indiana Jones as he raised his glass in toast.
Lao Che lifted a whisky-and-soda in return and flashed his quick, easy smile. Lao, having changed into a sharp light grey double-breasted suit, was relaxed and in control as he stood behind his massive desk next to Nurhachi. And before him stood Indiana Jones, the very man responsible for delivering the priceless urn. The filthy American was also a thing of great value in rough-and-tumble Shanghai: a proven, known quantity quite capable of even unsavory acts if necessary to get the job done.
Indiana stood at ease. His whisky’s invigorating smell was tangible proof that the long arduous journey from Manila had finally come to an end. The drink did not disappoint; it gave warmth and a reviving burn.
Lao took two fat Havana cigars from a humidor on the desk and looked Indiana Jones from head-to-toe. “You must explain how you happened to come to me in such a sorry state” – Lao pointed the cigars at W. C. Grieves’ bag of cash that still sat wide open on the study’s floor – “yet in possession of such a large amount of money?”
Indiana took the offered cigar and flashed a disarming grin. “Do you want the long or short version?”
Lao matched the smile, leaned forward with a light and responded, “The most truthful of course.”
Before the flame could take, a disturbance broke out in the hall. Just as Indiana turned back toward the door, Madam Sinn – dressed in a rich, finely stitched black silk gown – burst into the room. Nora Crowe followed and stopped cold at the sight of Indiana. Two of Lao’s doormen stood agape behind the ladies but withdrew with a fast click of the door at a sign from the old gangster. In surprisingly unrefined Shanghainese, Sinn said, “Father, you must help. Chen has found where the baby is being held and he intends to take back the baby by force. You must stop him.”
Madam Sinn appeared rattled. She did not even seem to register Indy’s presence. At the mention of his son’s name, Lao Che had slammed his glass down hard in disgust. He shook his head and replied in English. “Chen – he’s always too rash.”
Lao crossed to the starlet, said, “Take me to him, and I shall see personally to the return of my grandson.” Lao looked over to Indy. “Doctor Jones. You must excuse me – clean yourself up and wait for me upstairs in the Club. I have a family matter I must first attend to prior to our leaving Shanghai.”
“No, Father,” Madam Sinn shook her head. “Doctor Jones must come as well. He can help.”
Incredulous, Lao asked, “You know this man?”
Madam Sinn nodded. “Yes father. He saved my life on the flight from Hawaii.”
Indiana simply shrugged as he finished pouring himself another whisky. “I have been a big fan of Madam Sinn since a kid dragged me to see one of her films back in thirty-six.”
Indy marked how news of the rescue perplexed Lao. The gangster hesitated – like a machine executing a series of internal calculations – as if, Indy realized, his saving Madam Sinn had caused Lao Che to make some change in plans. Lao then turned back toward Madam Sinn and gestured toward Indy. “My dear, there is no need to tax Doctor Jones – ”
“. . . Please Father. . . .”
Lao Che relented. Shaking his head, he picked up his phone to have his car readied.
Indiana Jones turned to Nora Crowe. She scornfully looked up from the open bag of money and the fat cigar in Indy’s hand. “So you’ve been busy since Manila?”
Not without an edge, Indiana responded, “It’s not what it looks like. . . .”
Again, the doors to Lao Che’s study burst in and two scantily dressed women entered the room laughing. Arms interlocked, the long-legged dancers crossed the study out on to the terrace. They scooped up the errant hairpin and robe left on the divan and snatched up a still chilling bottle of champagne. Oblivious – or more likely well-accustomed – to Lao’s constant flow of visitors, the dancers passed back out through the study without seeking pardon or permission. As one of the girls passed Indiana Jones, she raised her arm and blew him a kiss – an action that caused her robe to slip off her shoulder revealing tantalizing flesh.
Nora raised an eyebrow. “Not what it looks like? Tell me, what does it look like?”
Indiana held his hands out at his waist. “Do I really look like I’ve been getting lucky with showgirls?”
“Quite,” said Lao Che, as he lowered his telephone. “There’s been no time.” Lao crossed to Nora and bowed. “And who are you?”
“Nora Crowe,” she stole a quick glance at Indiana as Lao kissed her hand. “I am – ”
“—an employee of Pan American, Father,” cut in Madam Sinn. “She offered to see me home after the hijacking on our way to Manila.”
Lao shot a meaningful look at Indiana, and said, “Madam Sinn sent me a cable about the Japanese attempt to seize a Clipper ship from Manila.” Lao nodded toward the open terrace doors and the glow from the nightclub’s lights. “It came as a bolt from the blue. Not only was I thankful to learn that my daughter-in-law had survived a great ordeal – but it was a poignant wake-up–”
“—that things aren’t so safe in Shanghai, especially with a Japanese Army camped on the City’s doorstep,” finished Indiana.
“Exactly,” said Lao. “I tried to look into the hi-jacking but found that the American’s were keeping it a secret. That was the second God-send – otherwise Shanghai would be rioting now out of fear of an imminent Japanese attack.”
Lao Che gestured toward the door. “Now we must go. Doctor Jones, you better than most appreciate the need for a fast action when Chen is involved.”
But instead of heading for the door, Lao called out to his goons. One with a non-existent neck brushed past Indy as the other gave a greasy smirk. Together with Lao, the three went through what Indiana recognized as a familiar routine of packing Nurhachi safely into the ancient campaign trunk. Once the Jade urn was safe inside the trunk, Lao locked the trunk with an ancient key and placed it in his pocket.
“We’re taking the urn?” said Indiana pensively.
“We must go,” said Lao ignoring the question.
The group descended Club Obi Wan’s wide-but-dark steps at a rapid clip. Lao’s heavy-footed goons followed their boss, with each clutching a handle to the campaign trunk. Indy stayed close to Nora. As the group ahead rounded a corner Nora pulled Indy back. “What are doing with that hood?”
Indy kept his head down and started down the next flight. “What I have to do to get where I have to go.”
At the bottom, Indy hesitated. “Let me get this straight – Madam Sinn is married to Chen?”
“Don’t ask me,” said Nora. “I have no idea who this ‘Chen’ is. You were the one smoking cigars with grand-dad. You know he’s the most notorious gangster in Shanghai?”
“All to well.” Indiana thundered down the last flight and repeated under his breath, “All to well.”
Outside, the group piled into a waiting limousine. As the luxurious automobile made what time it could as it headed deeper into the ancient sprawling city, Indiana looked down at Nora’s hands – the same strong, cool hands he held when they had danced together back on Midway Island. Across the compartment, Lao Che noted the expression that played across Indiana’s face and leaned forward.
“Doctor Jones,” said Lao with a long drawn out smile. “Had I known at Oxford that it is standard practice for an archaeologist to always have a beautiful women at his side, I would have concentrated my studies in that area, instead of the law.”
Knowing where this was going, Indiana banged his head back against the wall of the cabin.
Curious, Nora asked, “What do you mean?”
Lao tilted his head back and laughed. “Surely Doctor Jones has told you the circumstances surrounding our last meeting?”
Nora shook her head ‘no’ and shot a look over at Indy.
“Several years ago we were closing a deal back in my Club. At the time, I had engaged – at a considerable expense – a famous singer named Willie Scott.” Again, Lao stopped to laugh. “Dr. Jones took one look at her and he literally had to have her. Yes indeed, Doctor Jones is quite a character. The two stole away together that very night on a plane out of Shanghai.”
Nora shifted away from Indiana and made a sour face. “You were infatuated with that Willie Scott, the singer?”
Pleading, Indiana said, “No it was nothing like that. . . .”
“So you never met Willie Scott?”
“Well, I did but . . . .”
“’But’ what?” asked Nora. “But you didn’t skip town together the day you met her?”
Blushing, Indiana squirmed as the car came to a halt. “Yes we left on a plane but it wasn’t anything like that. . . .”
Nora glared as she started to cut off Indiana Jones. Instead, Madam Sinn leaned forward. “We’re here. We must stop Chen and his men.”