Authors: L. Ron Hubbard
And a few minutes later, the engine began to wheeze and gasp and then it stopped and
the night was very still.
Mitchell looked into the gas tank and rocked the car. “Dry,” he announced. “Unload.”
Toughey got down and swung the keg up on his shoulder once more, letting out a weary,
hungry groan. The girl looked scared.
“Gee, we got to walk?” she said, staring at the rough road which fanned out before
Mitchell looked at her feet and saw the extreme French heels she wore.
“Sure we got to walk,” said Mitchell. “Unless you want to stay here.”
Hurriedly she fell in between them, striving to lengthen her stride in spite of her
The headlights fell behind them and finally vanished. The heavy tread of Marine shoes
was cut by the triphammer beat of the French heels.
dawn, Mitchell saw a cluster of
huts, squat and but half seen in the uncertain light.
“Halt,” said Mitchell, advancing alone, hand resting on the polished flap of his holster.
Toughey put down the keg with a prompt thump and was about to sink upon it when he
recalled himself. “Have a seat, sister?”
She was too tired to answer. She sank down and sat there motionless, panting for a
long while. She could hear Mitchell’s solid footsteps somewhere in the chill gloom
Toughey took off his cap, selected a cigarette and started to light it when he remembered
himself again. He extended the cap upside down to the girl. “Have a smoke?”
“You saved m’life,” she said huskily and took a drag so deep that Toughey thought
she never would exhale. He let out his own breath when she let out hers.
It seemed to revive her as she crossed her legs and took her right foot in both hands.
The slipper lay tipped over in the dirt as though it was too tired to stand up.
“How long do we have to keep this up?”
“’Nother hundred and sixty-five miles,” said Toughey.
“Y’mean we have to
“Unless the Japanese give us a general’s car and a military escort—which ain’t likely
to happen. You’re lucky. That damned keg gets a pound heavier every thousand yards
and it’s up to a ton and a half by now.”
“What’s in it?”
“Damned if I know,” said Toughey disinterestedly.
“Maybe we can rest here a day or so.”
“No sir. We got to be in Shunkien by Saturday and if we want to make it, the rests
are gonna be few and far between.”
She sighed and sought solace in the smoke, eyeing Toughey. His big, battered face
with its broken nose and lopsided jaw interested her. She’d never seen a man as big
“You’re a funny duck,” she decided.
“You. Somebody tells you to deliver a keg to a town two hundred miles away and you
take it without even knowing what’s in it. Does
“Don’t think so. Why should we know what’s in it?”
“Maybe if I asked him real nice, he’d stick around until some of this swelling gets
out of my dogs. Do you suppose he would?”
“Him?” said Toughey, incredulous. “Orders is orders!” Toughey scratched his stubbly
jaw. “Only one thing ever stops Jimmy Mitchell and that’s
. Panther sweat. Th’ demon rum. As long as he can keep away from the stuff, he’d keep
goin’ if he was dead.”
“Y’mean he’s a booze fighter?”
“Yeah. He can’t stop. Been that way ever since he got into the service. Gunnery sergeant
one minute and a PFC the next. Likker sure makes a rolly-coaster out of livin’ for
“Never saw a drunk yet without some reason for drinkin’.”
Mitchell’s voice came to them out of the swimming morning mist and they followed the
sound to find him standing in the doorway of a hut. Now and then he wiped his hands
on his overcoat.
“Nobody here,” said Mitchell. “They cleared out and left some beans and potatoes.
Get a fire going, Toughey, and we’ll eat.”
“You going to stop here and sleep?” begged the girl, limping up.
“For about three hours. We only made about thirty-five miles yesterday and we should
have made fifty. If we hadn’t had to detour . . .”
Toughey had gone into a back room in search of firewood and had left the building
by the rear door. He appeared at the front now.
“Hey, Sarge, there’s a couple—”
“Shut up,” said Mitchell. “Get some wood and make a fire. Are you deaf or what?”
“Goddammit!” barked Mitchell. “Can’t you follow a simple order like that? Get some
wood and build a fire!”
“Okay,” said Toughey, backing out.
n hour later they had finished their meal. The day was growing yellow outside the
glassless windows. Inside the room, just before the door, were a number of small pits
all in a line.
Mitchell spread his coat and blanket for the girl.
“Where you going to sleep?” she said quickly.
“Outside. One of us will have to keep watch and that leaves an extra blanket. You
better get what shut-eye you can, lady. We’ll be falling in in a few hours.”
“Listen, mister, ain’t there a chance of stayin’ here a little longer? I could sleep
a year and still be short on rest.”
“Nope. Sorry, but we’ve got to get to Shunkien.”
“But why? A couple Marines won’t make any difference more or less in that town.”
“Maybe not,” said Mitchell. “But I got my orders.”
“Ain’t you scared of bein’ shot in some of this fightin’ around here?”
“Sure, but it’s my business to see that we aren’t. Now get some sleep.”
“And you won’t change your mind?”
She sat up suddenly and cried, “You’re not sorry or anything of the kind. I think
you’re just trying to get rid of me by walkin’ my legs off. Who the hell do you think
“I said get some sleep,” said Mitchell. “If you don’t, that’s your hard luck. If you
can’t take it and if you’d rather stay here alone . . .”
“No. Wait a minute. I didn’t mean to get mad. Honest.”
Mitchell smiled at her and instantly she chilled. “G’wan. How can I follow your orders
with you standin’ there grinnin’ at me?”
Mitchell went outside and found Toughey dozing in a patch of cold sunlight. Toughey
woke up instantly.
“Go ahead and
,” said Mitchell. “I’ll keep a lookout for an hour and then let you have it.”
“Hey,” said Toughey, aggrieved, “what’s the idea tellin’ me to pipe down a while ago?
I was just tryin’ to say that there’s a couple Japanese stiffs around the corner there
all shot to hell with machine-gun bullets.”
“Sure, that was all you had to say. Who do you think put them there?”
“You?” gaped Toughey.
“You wouldn’t want that girl to fall over a couple stiffs, would you?”
Toughey’s battered face lighted up. “Gee, that’s so. No wonder they made you a sergeant.”
“Can the wisecracks,” said Mitchell, moving off. He sat down against the wall and
pulled a small purse out of his blouse. He opened it up and took out a bountiful store
of cosmetics and then some papers.
Toughey was interested immediately. “What’s that?”
“Pipe down,” said Mitchell with a glance at the wall behind him.
“You got her pocketbook,” said Toughey.
“Sure I have. She thought she left it in the car. Think I want to convoy a spy halfway
“A spy?” gaped Toughey. “Say, that’s right. That millionaire story did sound kind
of phony now that I come to think of it. Hell, Sarge, maybe she’s just usin’ us to—”
“Pipe down. Do you want her to hear you?”
Mitchell ran through the papers and spread one out. It was a newspaper clipping which
said that Dawn LeMontraine, world’s most famous
, had appeared in Shanghai with great success. Her next engagement was to be
. The dateline was May third, many months before. The picture was that of the girl.
“A fan dancer!” grinned Toughey. “Well, for gawd’s sake! A fan dancer!”
“Think of that,” said Mitchell acidly. “Now get some sleep or I’ll give you something
to make you snore.”
“Whatcha so mad about?” said Toughey.
“Listen,” said Mitchell, carefully, “if you don’t start snappin’ into it, I’ll hold
out ten days’ pay. Understand?”
Toughey was so worried that he went to sleep the instant he sat back against the wall.
For a long time, Mitchell listened to his snores. At length he got up and paced nervously
around the huts, looking out into the plains for cavalry and spotting occasional bombers
which flew along the horizon.
Now that he was left to himself, he knew how tired he had been made by the nervous
strain. His mouth and throat felt raw and he was a little sick to his stomach.
Shunkien was so very far away and the dull, muttering thunder in the air said that
the way was hard.
Mitchell came back to his pack, thinking he might refresh himself with a shave. The
bulge of the bottle was under his hand. Unwillingly he unbuckled it and read the label.
His throat was so dry and his mouth was so parched. . . .
Canadian Whisky. Five Years Old. One Quart.
Just one drink wouldn’t do any harm. Just one drink . . . But if he took that drink
he would finish the bottle. He knew he would.
And still . . . Just one, small drink . . .
His mouth was set as he forced himself to put the bottle back. He padded it so that
he could not feel the sharp corners.
He had won. He ought to throw the damned thing up against the wall, but he could not.
Wearily he asked himself, would he win next time?
Shunkien was so very far away!
noon Wednesday, two regiments of Chinese infantry and three
of artillery reinforced the fragments defending Shunkien. A half-hour later their
howitzers began to wham in the streets, pounding the Japanese on the ridge and succeeding
in blasting two tanks which had sought to blast the gates.
At one, Japanese bombers were on their way and at exactly two-thirty-five Shunkien
was again mauled from the air.
Jackson, his white hair standing straight up on his head and his thin hands trembling,
bent over his radio operator’s desk. “Some of the women are getting hysterical, Billy.
Get the USS
if you can, and find out what’s been done.”
The youth laid his cigarette on the edge of his desk and leaned through the smoke
to throw the starter switch on his auxiliary generator.
Jackson watched him intently, jumping when a bomb exploded close enough to make the
floor shake. The machinery salesman, red face glistening, touched his arm.
“Mr. Jackson,” said the salesman, “I been checking over the supplies like you told
me and I can’t find much but ham. If you’d let me and Stevens slide out, maybe we
could scare up a Chinese willing to sell us some supplies. I . . . I haven’t got much
use for ham, Mr. Jackson.”
“We haven’t any money,” said Jackson tiredly.
“I thought of that. A lot of us have got banker’s checks. I’ve got five hundred and
it’s at your disposal.”
“You don’t know these Chinese,” said Jackson. “Knowing they would be looted no matter
who won, most of the bankers have fled or hidden their money. And back here, nothing
buys but gold at a time like this.”
“Shucks, Mr. Jackson, you aren’t very likely to find any gold on a bunch of
these days. Maybe I could jawbone a few crates of canned goods. There was a store
a couple blocks from here.”
“I can’t allow it, sir,” said Jackson.
“But why not?”
“In the first place, the attempt would fail. In the second place . . . well . . .
ah . . . the fact is . . .”
“Say, something’s eating you and the doc. What is it? I don’t see anything wrong with
getting out for a spell. I’m not afraid of these bombs. I’m going to try anyhow.”
“No, no!” said Jackson swiftly. He pulled the rotund salesman over into the corner.
“You see . . . the fact is . . . a couple of the native boys report . . . well . .
“I’ve had a cholera shot,” said the salesman. “I’m not scared of
. It’s just that I don’t care much for ham. You see . . .”
“You’ve had a cholera shot, true. All of us have had
. But you see . . . You won’t spread this?”
“Of course not!” said the salesman indignantly.
“Epidemic Asiatic cholera is . . . well . . . very violent. And in an exposed area,
it is necessary to have a secondary shot before one is immune. Otherwise, if cholera
begins to spread inside here . . .”
“Hell, ain’t we boiling our water?”
“Certainly. But you see, food, clothing, the very air we breathe, is likely to be
infected. If we stay here we may be safe but if one of us comes in contact with the
streets and the . . . well, you understand, sir.”
“Aw, you’re gettin’ serious about it. What’s cholera but a bellyache, huh?”
“Asiatic cholera,” said Jackson with dignity, “is a ‘bellyache’ bad enough to kill
a man in a day. The first stages are quite awful enough and are followed with agonizing
cramps in the legs and stomach. The victim turns blue and is very cold and he can
only speak in a hoarse whisper. And then, in an hour or two, he dies and so violent
is the disease that the body rises in temperature after the death. I have been in
epidemic areas, sir, and I know that these hundred and sixteen Americans would die
in a matter of a day or two after exposure.”
The salesman ran his finger under his collar. “I . . . I didn’t know it was that bad!”
“You will therefore refrain from foraging on your own,” said Jackson, triumphantly.
“You bet,” said the salesman shakily. “But wait. We haven’t got much food left! In
a couple days, we’ll be starving if we can’t leave here!”
“We can’t leave here,” said Jackson, “but I think the serum for the second shots will
be here by Saturday. If we then have money, we will be as safe as can be expected
in a battle area.”
The salesman went away, muttering to himself and staring popeyed straight ahead. His
hands were running over his stomach as though already detecting the first symptoms.
The radio operator turned. “I had the
sir. She’s on her way back to Shanghai. Here is the message.”
Jackson grabbed his decoding book and started to work. The doctor stared over his
shoulder with bated breath, straining his eyes to read the letters which began to
Finally the consul had it!
UNITED STATES CONSUL SHUNKIEN
BE ADVISED THAT TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS IN BRITISH GOLD IS BEING CONVEYED TO
YOU AND YOUR REQUIRED MEDICAL SUPPLIES. GUNNERY SERGEANT JAMES MITCHELL IS UNDER ORDERS
TO REPORT TO YOU NOT LATER THAN SATURDAY.
V. G. BLACKSTONE CAPT.
The consul trembled as he handed the message to the doctor but that worthy had already
read it and his invisible eyes were glowing.
“Looks easy enough,” said the doctor. “Even if a few do get it, the serum will be
here in time. It’s certain we can’t leave here at all unless we
“Yes,” whispered Jackson, feeling the throb of the floor beneath his feet as another
aerial bomb blammed into Shunkien. “Yes, it looks easy. Only two major offensives
and two hundred miles of war-gutted China between here and Liaochow.”