The Fighting Agents (Men at War Series #4)

The Fighting Agents (Men at War Series #4)

by W. E. B. Griffin, Alex Baldwin

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback - Reprint)

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The Philippines, 1943: As the ragged remnants of the American forces stand against the might of the Imperial Japanese Army, a determined cadre of OSS agents becomes their only contact with the outside world-and their only hope for survival.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780515130522
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/01/2001
Series: Men at War Series , #4
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 101,373
Product dimensions: 4.20(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

W. E. B. Griffin is the author of seven bestselling series: The Corps, Brotherhood of War, Badge of Honor, Men at War, Honor Bound, Presidential Agent, and now Clandestine Operations. He lives in Fairhope, Alabama, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. 


Coppell, Texas

Date of Birth:

November 10, 1929

Place of Birth:

Newark, New Jersey

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Headquarters, Mindanao-Visayan Force
United States Forces in the Philippines
28 December 1942

Brigadier General Wendell W. Fertig, Commanding, Mindanao-Visayan Force, wore two items not commonly seen on general officers of the U.S. Army: a goatee with mustache and a cone-shaped, woven-reed hat perched at a cocky angle on his head. From this dangled what looked like a native bracelet.

    General Fertig, a trim, red-haired man of forty-one, was not a professional soldier. He had not gone to West Point; rather, he had entered the military service of the United States just over a year before, directly commissioned as Captain, Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army Reserve. The U.S. Army in the Philippines had been delighted to have the services of an experienced civil engineer, in particular one who was familiar with the Philippines. When he had entered the Army, Fertig had sent his wife and family to safety in Colorado.

    From the time of the Japanese invasion until the surrender ordered by General Wainwright on May 5, 1942, Fertig had been primarily involved in the demolition—usually by explosive—of roads, bridges, and tunnels, supply and petrol dumps, and other facilities to deny their use to the enemy. Many of the facilities he destroyed he had built before the war.

    On May 5, 1942—by then twice promoted—Lt. Colonel Fertig willfully and with full knowledge of the consequences elected to disobey the lawful order of his military superior, Lt. General Jonathan Wainwright, to immediately cease hostile actionagainst the Imperial Japanese Army and to make all preparations to surrender.

    He went instead into the mountains of Mindanao, with every intention of waging what hostile action he could against the Japanese. With him at the beginning were Captain Charles Hedges, another newly commissioned reserve officer of the Army, Chief Petty Officer Ellwood Orfett, USN, and Private Robert Ball, USA.

    Things did not go well at first for the little group. To avoid Japanese capture, they had to live in the jungle, eating what they could find there. Or else they ate the native food Moro tribesmen furnished them every now and again—at the risk of their lives.

    Once, they watched from the jungle as a long line of American prisoners—their officers bareheaded and with their arms tied behind them—were moved to a prison camp.

    Although they encountered some yet-to-surrender Philippine troops, there was no rush to Fertig's colors. Most of the Filipinos, in and out of uniform, sadly suggested to them that the war was over and that the only logical course for the ragtag quartet to follow was to surrender.

    But Fertig, if personally modest, had a somewhat grand notion of the role he could play in the war. He kept a diary, which has survived, and in it, in a rice paddy near Moray, he wrote:

    "I am called on to lead a resistance movement against an implacable enemy under conditions that make victory barely possible.... But I feel ... my course is charted and that only success lies at the end of the trail.... If we are to win only part of the time and gain a little each time, in the end we will be successful."

    Lt. Colonel Fertig gave a good deal of thought to the reluctance of the Filipinos and other Americans who had not surrendered to join him. He finally concluded that this was because they quite naturally thought he was simply one more middle-level brass hat, one more American civilian temporarily commissioned into the Army.

    They would, on the other hand, follow a real soldier, he realized. He improved on this: If there were a general officer who announced himself as the official representative of the United States and Philippine governments, that individual would command the respect of everybody.

    On October 1, 1942, on the back of a Delinquent Tax Notice, Fertig wrote a proclamation in pencil and nailed it to a tree:

Office of the Commanding General
United States Forces In the Philippines
Mindanao-Visayan Force in the Field
1 October 1942


1. By virtue of the power vested in me, the undersigned, as senior representative of the United States Government and the Philippine Commonwealth, herewith assumes command.

2. A state of martial law is declared for the duration of the war. By Order of the Commanding General:

Wendell W. Fertig
Brigadier General, USA,


1. To all commanding officers, USFIP

2. To all Provincial Governors

3. To all Provincial Officials

4. To all Justice of Peace Courts

5. File

    A Moro silversmith hammered out two five-pointed stars—the rank insignia of a brigadier general—from silver dollars, and Fertig pinned them to his collar points.

    It was likely, Fertig knew, that his proclamation would be blown by the wind from the tree before anyone saw it. Or if it stayed on the tree (the distribution list, for instance, was a bluff; the delinquent tax form was the only sheet of paper he had), that whoever read it would either laugh or conclude there was a crazy American running loose.

    But two days later, as the quartet was walking along the beach beside a Mindanao jungle, ready to rush in and hide if Japanese soldiers appeared, a wiry little Moro wearing vestiges of a uniform and carrying a Model 1917 Enfield U.S. Army rifle stepped into view. And then others appeared, until there were almost two hundred of them.

    The wiry little Moro saluted crisply and in the best English he could manage informed General Fertig that he and his men were at the General's orders, and with respect, could he suggest they go into the jungle, for there were Japanese just a short distance down the beach.

    Soon other Filipinos appeared, as well as other Americans who had decided to take their chances in the mountains and the jungles rather than enter Japanese captivity. No one seemed to question the stars on Fertig's collar points; they all seemed happy to be able to place themselves under the orders of someone who knew what he was doing.

    A reasonably safe headquarters was established. Though it was not defensible, it was in a location that would be invisible from the air and difficult to locate on the ground. And even if located, it would be very difficult to surround. If Japanese appeared, Fertig and his forces would be able to vanish into the mountains before the Japanese got close.

    Remaining free was the first priority.

    The second priority, as Fertig saw it, was to make his presence known to others who had not surrendered and who could join his forces; to the Japanese, who would be obliged to tie down forces on a ratio of at least seven to one in order to look for and contain him; and to the U.S. Army.

    There were risks involved in making the U.S. Army aware of what he was doing. For one thing, he simply might be ordered to surrender. He thus decided that if such an order came, he would not acknowledge it. For another, the U.S. Army was likely to frown both on his self-promotion to brigadier general and on the authority he had vested in himself to take command of Mindanao and proclaim martial law.

    Fertig decided that these risks had to be taken. There was simply no way he could arm a guerrilla force as large as he envisioned by stealing arms from the Japanese. And the only possible source of arms was the U.S. Army, which could either make airdrops or possibly send a submarine. And then on top of that, just about as important as arms was medicine, especially quinine. And the only possible source of medicine was the Army.

What he really needed most of all was money. Not greenbacks. Gold. Preferably twenty-dollar gold coins. Lots of twenty-dollar gold coins. With them he could pay his troops, which would lend sorely needed credence to Brigadier General Fertig and his authority. And he could buy food and possibly medicine, and make gifts to Moro chieftains and others who could thereby be persuaded to help him.

    There was one major problem with informing the U.S. Army of the existence of the Mindanao-Visayan force of United States forces in the Philippines: Headquarters, USFIP, had no radio. And if it could somehow get hold of a radio, it had no generator to power it. And if USFIP came into possession of a radio and a generator, and could somehow begin to transmit, there was a very good possibility that the U.S. Army Signal Corps radio operators in the States would not reply. They would presume that the Japanese were playing games with them, because any message from legitimate American forces would be encrypted, that is, sent in code.

    Acting on the authority he had vested in himself, Fertig commissioned Chief Petty Officer Orfett and Private Ball as second lieutenants. Lieutenant Orfett was put in charge of a deserted coconut-oil mill. Coconut oil could be sold or bartered. Lieutenant Ball was appointed signal officer, USFIP, and ordered to establish communications with the U.S. Army in Australia. He was to use his own judgment in determining how this could be best accomplished.

    Lieutenant Ball appointed as his chief radio operator a Filipino high school boy by the name of Gerardo Almendres. Almendres, before war came, had completed slightly more than half of a correspondence course in radiotelephony. Using the correspondence course schematic diagrams as a guide, Almendres set about building a shortwave transmitter. Most of his parts came from the sound system of a motion picture projector that had been buried to keep it out of Japanese hands.

    A boatload of recruits from Luzon arrived. It comprised the remnants of a Philippine Scout Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment: six master sergeants, one of them an American. With them they had an American captain who had deserted USAFFE, U.S. Army Forces, Far East, and taken to the jungles, rather than face certain capture on Corregidor.

    The captain, Horace B. Buchanan, USMA '34, a slight, balding man showing signs of malnutrition, provided the second item necessary to establish communication with the U.S. Army in Australia. It was a small metal box bearing a brass identification tag on which was stamped:


Device, Cryptographic, M94


It is absolutely forbidden to remove this device from

its assigned secure cryptographic facility


    General Fertig had never seen one before. He found it fascinating.

    It consisted of twenty-five aluminum disks. Each disk was about the size of a silver dollar and just a little thicker. The disks were stacked together and laid on their edges, so they could rotate independently on an axle. The stack of disks was about five inches long. On the outside of each disk there was printed an alphabet, sometimes A, B, C in proper sequence and sometimes with the characters in a random order.

    "How does it work?" Fertig asked.

    Captain Buchanan showed him.

    Each of the disks was rotated until they all spelled out, horizontally on the "encrypt-decrypt line," the first twenty-five characters of the message they were to transmit. That left the other lines spelling out gibberish.

    Cryptographic facilities were furnished a Top Secret document, known as the SOI (Signal Operating Instructions). Among other things, the SOI prescribed the use of another horizontal line, called the "genatrix," for use on a particular day. The gibberish on the genatrix line was what was sent over the air.

    Actually, Buchanan explained, the SOI provided for a number of genatrix lines, for messages usually were far longer than twenty-five characters. The genatrix lines were selected at random. One day, for example, Lines 02, 13, 18, 21,07, and so on were selected, and Lines 24, 04, 16, 09, 09, and so on, the next.

    When the message was received, all the decrypt operator had to do was consult his SOI for that day's genatrix lines. He would then set the first twenty-five characters of the gibberish received on that genatrix line on his Device, Cryptographic, M94, and the decrypted message would appear on the encrypt-decrypt line. He would then move to the next prescribed genatrix line and repeat the process until the entire message had been decrypted.

    The forehead of the red-goateed brigadier general creased thoughtfully.

    Buchanan read his mind.

    "In an emergency, Sir," Buchanan said, "in the absence of an SOI, there is an emergency procedure. A code block ..."

    "A what?" Fertig asked.

    "A five-character group of letters, Sir," Buchanan explained, "is included as the third block of the five five-character blocks in the first twenty-five characters. That alerts the decrypt operator to the absence of an SOI."

    "And then what?"

    "First, there is a standard emergency genatrix line sequence. The message will then be decrypted. The receiving station will then attempt to determine the legitimacy of the sender by other means."

    "Such as?"

    "His name, for one thing. Then the maiden name of his wife's mother, the name of his high school principal, or his children. Personal data that would not be available to the enemy."

    General Fertig nodded.

    "You are a very clever fellow, Buchanan," Fertig said. "You are herewith appointed cryptographic officer for United States forces in the Philippines."

    That left two connected problems. The first was to get Gerardo Almendres's International Correspondence School transmitter-receiver up and running. That would require electrical power, and that translated to mean a generator would be required.

    Buchanan had no idea how that could be handled, but both he and Lt. Ball suggested that perhaps Master Sergeant George Withers might be of help. Withers was the NCOIC (noncommissioned officer in charge) of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment on whose boat Buchanan had escaped from Luzon. He was a competent fellow; master sergeants of the Regular U.S. Army are almost by definition highly knowledgeable and resourceful. He had, after all, managed to acquire and hide the boat and bring his detachment safely to Mindanao on it.

    Master Sergeant Withers was summoned.

    He was obviously uncomfortable, and after some gentle prodding, General Fertig got him to blurt out:

    "The truth of the matter is, General, I'm not sure I'm a master sergeant."

    "Would you care to explain that, Sergeant?"

    Withers explained that he had been a staff sergeant assigned to an Army ammunition depot on Luzon when he had been suddenly transferred to a Philippine Scout Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment.

    "There was fifteen Scouts, General ... we lost ten before we finally got out. Anyway, Sir, two of them was technical sergeants. They didn't know nothing about explosives, they'd come out of the Twenty-sixth Cavalry with Lieutenant Whittaker when it got all shot up and was disbanded."

    "Lieutenant Whittaker? A cavalry officer? Was he killed, too?" General Fertig asked.

    "No, Sir, and he wasn't a cavalry officer, either. He was a fighter pilot. They put him in the cavalry after they ran out of airplanes, and then they put him to work blowing things up when the Twenty-sixth Cavalry got all shot up and they butchered their horses for rations. He was a fucking artist with TNT ..."

    "What happened to him?"

    "I don't know," Withers said. "The brass on Corregidor sent for him. That's where we got Captain Buchanan. He was sent to fetch Lieutenant Whittaker, and he talked Lieutenant Whittaker into letting him come with us."

    It made sense, Fertig thought, that a demolitions expert ... "a fucking artist with TNT" ... would be summoned to Corregidor to practice his art just before the fortress fell. Poor bastard, if he wasn't dead, he was now in a prison camp. With a little bit of luck, he could be here, and free. USFIP could use a fucking artist with TNT.

    "You were telling me, Sergeant," General Fertig said, "about your rank."

    "Yes, Sir. Well, Lieutenant Whittaker thought that since I knew about explosives, and the Scouts didn't, it would be awkward with two of the Scouts outranking me, so he said, right when I first reported to him, that I had been promoted to master sergeant. I'm not sure he had the authority to do that, Sir. I wasn't even on the technical sergeant promotion list."

    Sgt. Withers looked at General Fertig for the general's reaction. His face bore the look of a man who has made a complete confession of his sins and has prepared himself for whatever fate is about to send his way.

    "Sergeant Withers," General Fertig said. "You may consider that your promotion in the field, by my authority, has been confirmed and is now a matter of record."

    "Yes, Sir," Sgt. Withers said. "Thank you, General."

    "The reason I asked you in here, Sergeant," General Fertig said, "is to ask for your thoughts on a problem we have. We have need of a source of electrical power."

    "What for, Sir?"

    "To power our radio transmitter."

    Withers hardly hesitated.

    "There's a diesel on the boat—"

    "We sank the boat."

    "We sunk it before on Luzon," Withers said, undaunted. "The engine's sealed. I'll take my Scouts down there and get it."

    "And how will you get it up here?"

    "We'll steal a water buffalo and make a travois ... like the Indians had? ... No problem, General."

   "The sooner the better, Sergeant," General Fertig said.

Naval Communications Facility
Mare Island Navy Yard
San Francisco, California
5 January 1943

The radioman second looked to be about seventeen years old. He was small and slight, and his light brown hair was cropped close to his skull. He wore government-issue metal-framed glasses, and his earphones made his head look very small.

    But he was good at his trade, capable of transcribing the International Morse Code coming over his Hallicrafters receiver far faster than it was being sent. He had time, in other words, to read what he was typing instead of just serving as a human link in the transmission process.

    He raised one hand over his head to signal his superior while with the other, with practiced skill, he took the sheet of paper in his typewriter out and fed a fresh sheet.

    The lieutenant junior grade who came to his station looked very much like the radioman second, except that he was perhaps four years older and just a little heavier. But he was slight, too, and wore glasses and looked very young.

    He took the sheet of yellow paper from the radioman second and read it:


    "What the hell is this?"

    "Look at the third block, Sir, "the radioman second said.

    "What about it?"

    "It was the emergency code, no SOI, when the Army was still using the old M94," the radioman second said.

    "Who's MFS?" the j.g. asked.

    "There's no such station, Sir," the radioman second said.

    "What do you think?"

    "I think it's the Japs playing games," the radioman said.

    "Well, what the hell, I'll send it over to the Presidio," the j.g. said. "Maybe they've still got an M94 around someplace."

    "You don't think I should give them a call back?"

    "They weren't trying to reach us, they were calling Australia. Let Australia call them back."

The National Institutes of Health Building
Washington, D.C.
10 January 1943

Motor Machinist's Mate First Class Charles D. Staley, USN, in compliance with his orders, presented himself at the National Institutes of Health building.

    Five weeks before, Staley had been running the tune-up shop at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center motor pool, outside Chicago. It was a hell of a thing for a first class petty officer with eighteen years' service to be doing with a war on; but Staley was a Yangtze River Patrol sailor, and he had learned that Yangtze River Patrol sailors who had managed to make it back to the States—instead of either getting killed or captured in the Philippines—seemed to get dumb billets like that. The Navy didn't seem to know what to do with them, so it gave them billets like running a motor pool, shit that had to be done but had little to do with ships or fighting a war.

    And then the personnel chief had called him in, and said there was a levy down from BuPers—the Navy Bureau of Personnel—for someone with his rate, who had been a China Sailor, and who was unmarried. The personnel chief said he had to volunteer, for the billet was "classified and hazardous." Reasoning that anything had to be better than cleaning carburetors, Staley volunteered.

    Five days later, his orders came through. For the first time in his service, Staley was flown somewhere in a Navy airplane. He was flown to Anacostia Naval Air Station in Washington, where a civilian driving a Plymouth station wagon met him and took him to a large country estate in Virginia about forty miles from Washington. Some very rich guy's house—there was a mansion, and a stable, and a swimming pool, set on 240 acres in the middle of nowhere—had been taken over by the government for the duration.

    A real hard-nosed civilian sonofabitch named Eldon C. Baker had given him and ten other guys a short speech, saying the purpose of the training they were about to undergo was to determine if they met the standards of the OSS. Staley didn't know what the hell the OSS was, but he'd been in the service long enough to know when to ask questions and when not to ask questions, and this was one of the times not to ask questions.

    Baker, as if he had been reading his mind, almost immediately made that official.

    "This is not a summer camp," Baker said, "where you will make friends for life. You are not to ask questions about the backgrounds, including girlfriends and families, of other trainees, and if a trainee asks you questions that do not directly concern what is going on at the school, you will report that immediately to one of the cadre."

    Baker had made it clear that if you reported it, the trainee who had asked the questions would be immediately "relieved" (which Staley understood to mean thrown out on his ass), and if you didn't report it, you would be relieved.

    They would be restricted to the camp, Mr. Baker told them, for the length of the course, or unless "sooner relieved for cause."

    The training itself had been part boot camp—running around and learning about small arms; part how to fight like a Shanghai pimp—in other words, with a knife, or by sticking your thumbs into a guy's eyes, or kicking him in the balls; part how to blow things up; and part how to be a radio operator. Staley hadn't had any trouble with any of it, but some of the other guys had had a hell of a time, and although they had said as little as possible about themselves, Staley had been able to figure out that most of the other guys were college guys, and he would have laid three to one that at least three of them were officers. Of the twelve guys who started, six made it through. Three got thrown out, one broke his leg climbing up the side of a barn, and two just quit.

    Some Army full-bull colonel, a silver-haired Irishman wearing the blue-starred ribbon of the Medal of Honor (the first one Staley had ever seen actually being worn), came to the estate just before they were through with the course and shook their hands; Staley was able to figure out from that that whatever was going on involved more than one service.

    Two days before, the cadre had loaded them all in station wagons, taken them to Washington, and handed them $300 and a list of "recommended civilian clothing." Staley had bought two suits, six shirts, a pair of shoes, and some neckties.

    The night before, one at a time, Baker had called everybody in and given them their orders, which they were not to discuss with anyone else. Staley didn't know what to make of his. He was ordered to report in civilian clothing to the National Institutes of Health, in Washington, D.C.

    They had brought him there in one of the station wagons.

    There was a receptionist in the lobby, and a couple of cops. He went to the receptionist, not sure what to do about his orders. They were stamped SECRET, and you don't go around showing SECRET orders to every dame behind a plate-glass window with a hole in it.

    "I was told to report here," Staley said, when she finally looked at him.

    "May I have your name, Sir?" she asked.

    When he gave it to her, she looked at a typewritten list, then handed him a cardboard badge with VISITOR printed on it, and an alligator clip on the back of it so that he could pin it to the lapel of his new suit. Then she called one of the cops over.

    "Would you take Mr. Staley to Chief Ellis, please?" she said.

    The cop smiled and made a come with me gesture with his hand. Staley followed him to an elevator, and they rode up in it and then went down a corridor until they came to a door with a little sign reading "Director." Inside that door was an office with a couple of women clerks pushing typewriters, an older woman who was obviously in charge, and a door with another sign reading "Director" on it.

    "This is Mr. Staley," the cop said.

    "The Chief expects him," the gray-haired woman said with a smile. Then she looked at Staley. "Go on in," she said.

    Staley stopped at the door and, conditioned by long habit of the proper way to report to a commanding officer, knocked and waited to be told to enter.

    "Come in," a male voice called.

    There was another office beyond that door, furnished with a large, glistening desk, a red leather couch, and two red leather chairs. Sitting at the desk, sidewards, so he could rest his feet on the open lower drawer of the desk, was a chief boatswain's mate, USN, smoking a cigar and reading a newspaper.

    "Whaddayasay, Staley?" the Chief said. "Getting any, lately?"

    It took a moment before Staley was sure who the Chief was, then he said, "Jesus H. Christ! Ellis!"

    Ellis swung around in his high-backed chair and pushed a lever on an intercom box.

    "Could somebody bring us some coffee?" he asked. Then he turned to Staley and gestured toward the red leather couch. "Sit down," he said. "Take a load off."

    Chief Boatswain's Mate J. R. Ellis, USN, was wearing a brand-new uniform. There were twenty-four years' worth of hash marks on the sleeve. The uniform was his Christmas present to himself. It was custom-made. He had had custom-made uniforms before, but in China, when he'd been with the Yangtze River Patrol. But he hadn't been a chief then, and custom-made uniforms cost a hell of a lot less in China than they did in the States. Chief Ellis had figured, what the hell, he had never even expected that he would make chief, why the hell not get a stateside custom-made uniform. He could afford it.

    The last time Staley had seen Ellis had been in Shanghai, and Ellis had been right on the edge of getting busted from bosun's mate first and maybe even getting his ass kicked out of the Navy. Ellis had been on the Panay when the Japs sank it in December 1937. After he'd swum away from the burning Panay, Ellis just hadn't given much of a damn for anything. Staley understood that: How the hell could you take pride in being a sailor if your government didn't do a goddamn thing to the goddamn Japs after they sank a U.S. man-of-war and killed a lot of sailors while they were at it?

    But he had never expected to see Ellis as a chief, and certainly not in a billet where he was obviously some kind of a big wheel.

    One of the typists came in with two cups of coffee, in nice cups and saucers, not mugs.

    "There's cream and sugar," she said, smiling at Staley, "but Chief Ellis never uses what he calls 'canned cow.'"

    "Black's just fine, Ma'am," Staley said.

    When she left, curiosity got the better of him.

    "What the hell is going on around here, Ellis?" he asked.

    "I've been trying to figure out how to tell you that," Ellis said. "I guess the quickest way is the chain of command."


    "Tell me about the chain of command."

    Staley looked at him in confusion. Ellis was obviously dead serious.

    "Tell me," Ellis repeated.

    "Well," Staley said, "I'm first class, and you're a chief, so I report to you, and you report to some officer, and he reports to some senior officer, and it works its way to the top, all the way, I suppose, to the Chief of Naval Operations."

    "All the way to the President," Ellis corrected him. "The Chief of Naval Operations reports to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he reports to the President, who is Commander-in-Chief."

    "So?" Staley said.

    "The way it is here," Ellis said, "is that you report to me, and I report to the Colonel ... you met him, he was out to look things over in Virginia...."

    "The guy with the Medal of Honor?"

    "Colonel William J. Donovan," Ellis said. "I work for him, and he works for the President. I mean, directly. He gets his orders from the President. Nobody else can tell him what to do."

    Staley said, "No shit?"

    "You're going to have to learn to watch your language around here, Charley," Ellis said, almost primly.

    "Sorry," Staley said. "Where do I fit in around here?"

    "You're going to be the Colonel's driver," Ellis said. "And don't look down your nose at it. There's more to it than driving a car."

    "Such as?"

    "There's a lot of people would like to see him dead, for one thing. Your first job is to see that don't happen."

    "Like a bodyguard, you mean? Is that what all that crap in Virginia was for?"

    Ellis nodded, but then explained. "Baker got to the Colonel," he said. "Everybody who comes into the OSS gets run through that school. For a while, I thought they were going to make me go."

    "What exactly is this 'OSS'?"

    "It stands for 'Office of Strategic Services,'" Ellis said. "It's sort of like the FBI and Office of Naval Intelligence put together, plus Errol Flynn in one of them war movies where he parachutes behind enemy lines and takes on the whole Jap army by himself."

    "Give me a for example," Staley said.

    "The school was supposed to teach you Rule One around here," Ellis said. "You don't ask questions. If they figure you should know something, they'll tell you. You ask the wrong questions around here, and you'll wind up counting snowballs on Attu."

    "Can I ask what you do around here?" Staley asked.

    "I'm on the books as 'Special Assistant to the Director,'" Ellis said. "What that means is that I do everything and anything that makes life easier for him, and keeps him from wasting his time. And what you're going to do is help me do that."

    "Plus being a bodyguard, you said," Staley said.

    "We don't talk about that," Ellis said. "He's got bodyguards, mostly ex-FBI guys and ex-Secret Service guys. And he ducks away from them whenever he can. That's when you cover him. Get the picture?"

    Staley nodded. "I get the feeling you get along pretty good with him."

    "I never met anybody smarter or nicer," Ellis said flatly. "Or who works harder."

    "How come I got this job?"

    "The Colonel came in here about two weeks ago," Ellis said, "and found me working about midnight. And he said, 'I thought I told you to get some help.' And he sounded like he meant it. So I asked myself, Do I want some FBI guy who looks down his nose at a sailor, and is going to be pissed when he has to take orders from me? And unless I could think of something else, that's what was going to happen. So I called the Navy, BuPers, and told them to find me ex-China Sailors in the States."

    "You told the Navy?" Staley asked.

    Ellis, grunting, took a small leather wallet from his hip pocket and handed it to Staley.

    "It means what it says on there," he said. "You carry one of those things, everybody in the government, civilian agencies, as well as any military, has got to give you what you ask for. If they don't like it, they can bitch, later, after they give you what you ask for."

    "Jesus Christ!" Staley said, and handed the OSS credentials back.

    "You're going to get one of those," Ellis said. "You fuck up with it, Charley, we'll send you someplace that'll make Portsmouth navy prison look like heaven. And no second chances. You read me?"

    "Loud and clear, Chief," Staley said.

    "You're also going to get a badge and credentials saying you're a deputy U.S. marshal. That's in case anybody asks why you're carrying a gun. You try to get by with that. I mean, you don't show the OSS credentials until you don't have any other choice. You understand?"

    Staley nodded.

    "Same thing applies to the marshal's credentials. Fuck up with them once, and you're finished."

    "Okay, okay," Staley said.

    "So like I was saying, the Navy found you in Great Lakes, and I remembered that we always got along pretty good, and that you weren't as dumb as you look, so I told them to see if you would volunteer. And you did. And you got through the school all right, and here you are."

    "Yeah," Staley said. "Here I am."

    "You can walk out of here right now, Charley," Ellis said. "I'll get you any billet you want in the Navy. But if you stay, you're here for good. And there's liable to be more to it before we're done than driving the Colonel's Buick."

    He looked at Staley and waited for a response.

    "I'm in, Chief," Staley said.

    Ellis nodded and then dialed one of the three telephones on his desk.

    "I'm sending a guy named Staley down there," he said. "Get him credentials, and take him by the arms room and get him a .45 and a shoulder holster, and then take him over to the house."

    He hung the phone up.

    "You'll get a rations and quarters allowance from the Navy," Ellis said, "and a rations and quarters allowance from us. Otherwise you would wind up sleeping on a park bench and starving. Until you can find someplace to live, we'll put you up in the garage at the house."

    "The house?"

    "It's a mansion over in Rock Creek we have," Ellis explained. "There's a couple of apartments over the garage. Nice. Get yourself settled, and then come back here in the morning. I probably shouldn't have to tell you this, but I will. There's two women at the house. They're absolutely off-limits."

    "Got it," Staley said.

    "You fixed all right for money?" Ellis asked.


    Ellis pushed a lever on the intercom.

    "Will you have somebody take Staley to the photolab, please?" he said, then gestured for Staley to leave.

    Ellis was pleased with the way things had turned out with Staley. It had been a risk, recruiting him. But he'd done well in the school (that sonofabitch Baker had even been impressed; he'd called and said he had a job for Staley if what he was going to do in Washington was "relatively unimportant"), and now that Ellis had talked to him, he thought he could handle what was expected of him here, and, very important, that he would get along with the Colonel. He hadn't been worried about how Staley would get along with Captain Peter Douglass, Sr., USN, Donovan's deputy (a Navy petty officer and a Navy officer would understand each other), but the Colonel might have been a problem.

    Colonel "Wild Bill" Donovan had been one hell of a soldier in his day. He'd won the Medal of Honor in France with the "Fighting 69th," the National Guard regiment from New York City. Between wars, he'd been a rich and powerful lawyer in New York City and Washington. He had little patience for people he decided were fools. But Staley was no fool. The way he'd handled himself at the school and the way he acted now had proved that. He would fit in.

    Ellis thought of his responsibilities—now to be shared with Staley and maybe even a couple of others, if he could find the right men—rather simply: It was his job to make things easier for the colonel. Sometimes that meant he would fry up ham and eggs in the kitchen of the Colonel's Georgetown town house. And sometimes it meant that he went around the world with the Colonel, serving as bodyguard and confidant and sort of private secretary and transportation officer. You name it, he did it.

    And he got to learn a lot. He was supposed to read everything the Colonel read, so that if he had to do something for the Colonel, the Colonel wouldn't have to waste his time explaining things. Some of the stuff he had to read was really pretty dull, but sometimes it was interesting. As far as he had been able to figure out, there was only one secret the Colonel knew that he didn't. Ellis had concluded that Captain Douglass knew that secret, because when Ellis had started getting nosy, Douglass got his back up.

    That secret had something to do with what an Army brigadier general named Leslie Groves was doing at a secret base in the Tennessee mountains with something called uranium. That's what he'd asked Captain Douglass, "What's uranium?"

    That's what had gotten Douglass's back up.

    "Now hear this clearly, Chief. You don't ask that question. You don't mention the word 'uranium' to me, or to Colonel Donovan, and certainly not to anyone else. You understand that?"

    "Aye, aye, Sir."

    Ellis was confident that when the time came, he would find out what uranium was, and what General Groves was doing with it.

    Some of the interesting things that came with the job had nothing to do with secrets.

    What he had been doing when Staley had reported in, for example. He had been reading the Mainichi. He didn't think there were very many other people who got to do that. The Mainichi was the English-language newspaper published in Tokyo. The edition he had in his hands was only ten days old. Ellis wondered how the hell they managed to get one in ten days halfway around the world from the Jap capital. But they did. And they did it regularly.

    It was full of bullshit, of course.

    For example, there was a story in the Mainichi today that troops under some Jap general with an unpronounceable name had destroyed the headquarters of Major General Fertig on Mindanao, killed General Fertig, and sent the rest of his troops running off to the mountains to starve.

    The reason Ellis knew the story was pure bullshit was that he had been at a briefing in the situation room when guerrilla activity in the Philippines had been discussed. A full-bull colonel—a guy who had gotten out of the Philippines with MacArthur and then had been sent to Washington as a liaison officer and who should know what he was talking about—had said that while there was a chance that small units of a dozen or so men could evade Japanese capture for as long as several months, there was no possibility of organized "militarily significant" guerrilla activity in the Philippines.

    And there was no General Fertig. Ellis had checked that out himself. The only guy named Fertig in the Philippines was a light colonel, a reserve officer reliably reported to have blown himself up taking down a bridge.

    According to the Mainichi, this nonexistent general had at least a regiment, which the Japs wiped out to the last man at least once a week.

    The messenger appeared in Chief Ellis's office with the distribution. The messenger was an Army warrant officer in civilian clothes. There was no love lost between them. The warrant officer naturally wondered how come he was wandering around the halls of the National Institutes of Health, delivering the mail like a PFC clerk, while this swab-jockey got to sit around with his feet on a desk reading a newspaper.

    Ellis signed his name twenty-seven times, acknowledging receipt of twenty-seven Top Secret documents, each of which had to be accounted for separately, and then signed twice more for a batch of Secret, and Confidential, Files.

    When the messenger had gone, he scanned the titles of the Top Secret documents. He recognized every one of them. They had been here before. Then he read the titles of the Secret documents and scanned through the half dozen he had not seen before. Finally, he turned to the Confidential titles, saw nothing of interest except the regular of-possible-interest memorandum, which Ellis thought of as the "What-the-Hell-Is-This? List."

    This was a compilation of intelligence data that didn't fit into any of the established categories. A report that the Germans had bought a ferryboat in Spain, for example. Or that the Italian Gendarmerie had lost another battle against the Mafia in Sicily. It had come to someone's attention in one of the intelligence agencies. He hadn't known what to do with it, but maybe somebody else could make something of it. When that happened, it was circulated on the of-possible-interest memorandum.

    Ellis read it faithfully. And his eyebrows went up when he came to item six:

1:6. The Presidio of San Francisco has received from Mare Island Communications Facility an encrypted message transmitted by an unknown station operating in the 20-meter band. The message was encrypted using an apparently captured M94 encryption device.

The message was addressed to "U.S. Forces in Australia."

The decrypted message follows: We Have the Hot Poop from the Hot Yanks in the Phils. Fertig Brig Gen

The station identified itself with the call letters MFS and reported itself standing by.

Comment: There is no station with call letters MFS. There is no General officer in the USA or USMC by the name of Fertig. This is therefore presumed to be a Japanese subterfuge. No attempt to contact the calling station has been made.

    Chief Ellis called the office of the adjutant general in the Pentagon, where he ascertained that there was no confirmed report of the death of Lt. Colonel Wendell W. Fertig, or that he had been captured. His status was missing and presumed dead. He got the name and telephone number of Colonel Fertig's next of kin, Mrs. Mary Fertig, his wife, in Golden, Colorado.

    And then he took a red grease pencil and drew a box around Item 6 on the What-the-Hell-Is-This? List, tore that sheet from the file, and moved it to the top of the stack of Top Secret documents. Then he carefully scissored the clipping about the glorious victory of Japanese forces over Major General Fertig from the Mainichi and stapled that to the What-the-Hell-Is-This? List.

    Twenty minutes later, Colonel William Donovan marched into the office, his face betraying that the morning session at the White House had been difficult.

    "I would kill for a cup of coffee," he greeted Ellis as he walked past his desk.

    When Ellis carried the coffee into the office, Donovan was dangling the page torn from the What-the-Hell-Is-This? List between his thumb and forefinger.

    "What the hell is this?" he asked.

    "I think it's interesting," Ellis said.

    "You want to try to call that station back?" Donovan asked.

    Ellis nodded.

    "Have it done," Colonel Donovan ordered.

    "Colonel, things get lost in proper channels," Ellis said.

    Donovan considered that a moment.

    "Meaning you want to go out to California?"

    "I could be back in three days," Ellis said. "Before it got there through channels."

    "You have a gut feeling, Chief?" Donovan asked.

    "Yes, Sir, you could put it that way."

    "Okay," Donovan said.

    Chief Ellis called the chief at Flight Operations at Anacostia Naval Air Station, on the other side of the District of Columbia.

    "Hey, Chief, how they hanging? This is Chief Ellis."

    "How's my favorite China Sailor? What are you trying to beat me out of today?"

    "I need a seat for somebody very important on the next plane to Mare Island."

    "Is he self-important, or just very important?"

    "Actually, he's a pretty good guy."

    "Reason I ask is I got a half-dozen torpedo bombers being ferried from Baltimore to load on a carrier at Mare Island. If this guy's not too ritzy to ride in a torpedo bomber ..."

    "From Anacostia or Baltimore?"

    "Here. They're picking up people here. That's how I know about it."


    "How soon can he get here?"

    "He's on his way."

United States Navy Base, Mare Island
San Francisco, California
12 January 1943

The radioman second had seen the base commander only once before, and then he had been riding by in his Navy gray Packard Clipper with its three-starred vice admiral's plate.

    And now here he was, in the radio room, looking right at him.

    "Stand at ease, son," the Admiral said, almost kindly. "This is Chief Ellis, and he wants to ask you some questions."

    "You picked up a message from somebody calling themselves MFS, right?"

    "That's right, Chief."

    "You heard them again?"

    "They're on every day, for ten, sometimes twenty minutes," the radioman second said. "They were on, oh, hell, twenty minutes ago."

    "See if you can raise them," Ellis said.

    The Vice Admiral's eyes went up, but he said nothing. He had seen the card signed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

    "Go on," Ellis repeated. "See if you can raise them."

    The radioman second turned to his key and moved it quickly.

    "I sent 'KSF calling MFS,'" he replied.

    "I read code," Ellis said, not arrogantly.

    There was no immediate reply.

    The radioman second tapped his key again. When the transmitter was activated, the receiver was automatically shut down. When he turned the transmitter to standby, the receiver was issuing a series of dots and dashes.

    The radioman second, without thinking, tapped it out on his typewriter. The Vice Admiral leaned over to read:


    "Send this," Ellis said, and handed the radioman a sheet of paper, on which was typed


    "Send it twice, and then wait," Ellis ordered. "If he's using one of these things, it'll take him a minute."

    He held up a Device, Cryptographic, M94. He'd had a hell of a time finding one and had annoyed the Presidio of San Francisco no end by requisitioning theirs.

    Five minutes later, MFS came back on the air, and the radioman second quickly typed it.


    It didn't take Ellis long to work the Device, Cryptographic, M94; there had been one on the Panay.

    "Hot damn!" he said, after a minute. Then he ordered: "Send 'We are ready for your traffic,'" and then he corrected himself. "No, send 'Welcome to the net, we are ready for your traffic.'"

    Then, without asking permission, Chief Ellis picked up the telephone and told the Navy operator to get him Mrs. Mary Fertig in Golden, Colorado.

    The telephone operator said that no long-distance calls could be placed without the authority of the communications officer and an authorization number.

    "I'm going to need an authorization number," Ellis said to the communications officer.

    The Admiral motioned for Ellis to hand him the telephone.

    "This is Admiral Sendy," he said to the telephone. "Put the call through."

    In Golden, Colorado, Mrs. Mary Fertig answered her telephone.

    "Ma'am," Ellis said. "This is Chief Ellis. You remember me?"

    Of course she remembered him. He had telephoned late the night before and said he couldn't tell her why he wanted to know, but could she give him the full name and date of birth of her oldest child? He had waked her up, and she hadn't been thinking too clearly, so she had given it to him. Later, she had worried about it. There were all kinds of nuts and sick people running loose.

    "Yes, I remember you, Chief," Mrs. Fertig said somewhat warily. "what do you want now?"

    "Ma'am," the salty old chief bosun's mate said, "we're in contact with your husband. I thought maybe you'd want to say something to him."

    "Where is he?" she asked, very softly.

    "Somewhere in the Philippines, that's all we know," Ellis said. Then he said, "Wait a minute."

    The radioman second had handed him a brief decrypted message.


    Ellis read it over the telephone.

    It took Mrs. Fertig a moment to reply, and then, when she spoke, it was with an audible effort to control her voice.

    "My husband, Chief Ellis," she said, "is on the island of Mindanao. We used to go there to play golf at the course on the Dole Plantation. And we ate pineapples for breakfast."

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