Put in charge of the OSS's Pacific operations, General Fleming Pickering is faced with two covert missions in the Gobi Desert. Called to duty is a Marine he doesn't expect...a scapegrace pilot named Malcolm, his son. Together, they will venture incognitoand with luck they may even come out alive...
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.
Date of Birth:November 10, 1929
Place of Birth:Newark, New Jersey
Read an Excerpt
303 DuPont Circle
0905 8 February 1943
Fourteen months later, and half a world away, Major Ed Banning, USMC, opened his eyes, aware of the phone ringing. The next thing he noticed was that he was alone in bed.
As he swung his feet out of bed and reached for the telephone, he read his clock, remembering that Carolyn had told him she absolutely had to go to work, which meant catching the 6:05 Milk Train Special to New York. Which meant she had silently gotten out of bed at five, dressed without waking him, and gone and caught the goddamned train. The kindness was typical of her, and he was grateful for it, but he was sorry he missed her.
He was--especially when she showed him a kindness--shamed by their relationship. Even though she had known from the beginning about Milla, the thruth was that Carolyn was getting the short end of the stick. They could be as "adult" and "sophisticated" as they pretended to be about their relationship, but the cold truth was Carolyn was doing all the giving, and he was doing all the taking, and Carolyn deserved better than that.
"Damn!" he said aloud, as he picked up the telephone. He had the day off--he had worked the Sunday 1600-2400 shift in the cryptographic room, and would not be expected at work again until 0800 tomorrow morning. It would have been nice to spend that time with Carolyn.
"Liberty Four Thirty-four Thirty-three," he said into the telephone.
It was standing operating procedure in the U.S. Marine Corps' Office of Management Analysis to answer telephones--in the office and in quarters--with the number, not the name. That way a dialer of a wrong number would learn only that he had the wrong number, not the identity of the person or office he had called by mistake.
"Sorry to do this to you, Ed," his caller said, without wasting time on a greeting.
He recognized the voice. It was his boss, Colonel F. L. "Fritz" Rickabee, USMC, Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps Office of Management Analysis. After Ed had been evacuated from the Philippines, just before they'd fallen to the Japanese, Banning had been assigned to the little-known unit.
Even its title was purposely obfuscatory--it had nothing to do with either management or analysis. It was a covert intelligence unit that took its orders from, and was answerable only to, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox.
"Oh, no!" Banning said.
"One of the sailors apparently has a tummy ache," Rickabee said.
"Right now," Colonel Rickabee said. "A car's on the way."
"Aye, aye, sir," Major Banning said.
There was a final grunt from Colonel Rickabee and the line went dead.
Banning marched naked to his bathroom and stepped under the shower. Five minutes later, he stepped out, having made use of time normally wasted standing under the shower by shaving there. He toweled himself quickly and then paused at the washbasin only long enough to splash aftershave cologne on his face. Then he went into his bedroom to dress.
He took a uniform from a closet still-in-its-fresh-from-the-dry-cleaners-paper-wrapping, ripped off the paper, and laid the uniform on the bed. With a skill born of long practice, he quickly affixed his insignia and ribbons to the tunic. His ribbons indicated, among other things, that he had seen Pacific service, during which he had twice suffered wounds entitling him to the Purple Heart Medal with one oak-leaf cluster.
Next he took a fresh, stiffly starched khaki shirt from a drawer and quickly pinned a gold major's oak leaf in the prescribed position on its collar points. He slipped on the shirt, buttoned it, tied a khaki field scarf in the prescribed manner and place, and put on the rest of his uniform. The last step before buttoning his tunic was to slip a Colt Model 1911A1 .45 ACP pistol into the waistband of his trousers at the small of his back.
The entire process, from the moment the telephone rang until he reached the apartment building's curb where a light green Plymouth sedan was waiting for him, had taken just over eleven minutes.
Though the car had civilian license plates, the driver, a wiry man in his thirties just then leaning on a fender, was a Marine technical sergeant. He was in uniform, which told Banning that when the call from the crypto room came in, no one around the office had been wearing civilian clothing--and there'd been no time to summon somebody in civvies. Standing operating procedure was that the unmarked cars were to be driven by personnel in civilian clothes. The sergeant straightened up, saluted, and then opened the door for him.
"Good morning, sir," he said.
"That's a matter of opinion," Banning said, smiling, as he returned the salute.
"The Colonel indicated you might be pissed, sir," the sergeant said.
"I left that goddamn place nine hours ago," Banning said. "And now another eight hours!"
"War is hell, isn't it, sir?"
"Oh, screw you, Rutterman," Banning said.
Sergeant Rutterman drove Major Banning to the Navy Building, where Banning underwent four separate security screenings before reaching his destination. The first was the more or less pro forma examination of his identity card before he could enter the building. The second, which took place on the ground floor, required him to produce a special identity card to gain access to the Secure Area. When this was done, he was permitted to enter the elevator to the second sub-basement. Once he was in the second sub-basement, armed sailors carefully matched a photo on his Cryptographic Area identification card against a five-by-seven card that held an identical photograph. The successful match allowed them to admit him to the area behind locked steel doors. The final security check was administered by a Navy warrant officer and a chief petty officer at a desk before still another heavy, vaultlike door.
Although they both knew Banning by sight, and the warrant officer and Banning had often shared a drink, they subjected him to a detailed examination of the three identity cards and finally challenged him for his password. Only when that was done, and the chief petty officer started to unlock the door's two locks--the door also had a combination lock, like a safe--did the warrant officer speak informally. "I can see how delighted you are to be back."
"Is he in there?" Banning said.
"Oh, he's been in there, Major, waiting for you."
There was no identifying sign on the steel door, and few people even knew of the existence of the "Special Communications Room." Even fewer had any idea of its function.
In one of the best-kept secrets of the war, cryptographers at Pearl Harbor had broken several of the codes used by the Japanese for communications between the Imperial General Staff and the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy, as well as between Japanese diplomatic posts and Tokyo. Most, but not all, of the cryptographers involved in this breakthrough had been Navy personnel. One of the exceptions was an Army Signal Corps officer, a Korean-American named Lieutenant Hen Song Do.
Intercepted and decrypted Japanese messages were classified TOP SECRET--MAGIC. The MAGIC window into the intentions of the enemy gave the upper hierarchy of the United States government a weapon beyond price. And it wasn't a window into the Japanese intentions alone, for some of the intercepted messages reported what the Japanese Embassy in Berlin had been told by the German government. In other words, MAGIC also opened a small window on German intentions as well.
But it was a window that would be rendered useless the moment the Japanese even suspected that their most secret messages were being read and analyzed by the Americans.
The roster of personnel throughout the world who had access to MAGIC material fit with room to spare on two sheets of typewriter paper. It was headed by the name of President Roosevelt, then ranged downward through Admiral William Leahy, the President's Chief of Staff; Admiral Ernest King, Chief of Naval Operations; General George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff; Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the Navy Commander in Chief, Pacific; General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander, South West Pacific Ocean Area; and Major Edward J. Banning, USMC; then farther downward to the lowest-ranking individual, a Marine Corps Second Lieutenant named George F. Hart.
Almost as soon as the system to encrypt and transmit MAGIC messages had been put in place, the senior officers with access to it--from Roosevelt on down--had realized that MAGIC also gave them a means to communicate with each other rapidly and with the highest possible level of security. The result was that nearly as many "back-channel" messages were sent over the system as there were intercepted Japanese messages.
"Okay, Major," the chief petty officer said to Banning, and swung the vaultlike door open. Banning stepped inside and the chief swung the door closed after him. Banning heard the bolts slip into place.
Inside the room were two desks placed side by side, a safe, and two straight-backed chairs. The MAGIC cryptographic machine was on one of the desks, along with a typewriter and three telephones, one of them red and without a dial.
A Navy lieutenant commander rose from one of the chairs. His uniform bore the silver aiguillettes signifying a Naval aide to the President, and he carried a .45 ACP pistol in a leather holster suspended from a web belt.
"Good morning," Banning said.
He had seen the lieutenant commander a dozen times before and didn't like him.
"It was my understanding that this facility was to be manned twenty-four hours a day," the lieutenant commander snapped.
Banning looked at him carefully. He reminded himself to control his temper.
"Ordinarily, it is," he said. "In this instance, one of your swabbies got sick to his tummy, and the Marines had to fill in for him."
"It is also my understanding that the officer in charge will be armed," the lieutenant commander said.
"I'm armed. Do you want to see it, or will you take my word as a fellow officer of the Naval establishment?"
The lieutenant commander looked for a moment as if he intended to reply to the comment, but then changed his mind.
"Well, let's have it, Commander," Banning said. "Time is fleeting."
The lieutenant commander unlocked the handcuff that attached his briefcase to his wrist. After he had placed the briefcase on the table, he unlocked the briefcase itself.
He took from it a clipboard and a large manila envelope, unmarked except for a piece of paper affixed to it in such a way that no one could open it without tearing the paper. To facilitate that, the paper was perforated in its center.
He handed Banning the envelope. Banning wrote his name on one half of the paper. Then he sealed the envelope, tore it loose, and handed it to the lieutenant commander. The lieutenant commander handed him the clipboard, and Banning signed the form it contained, acknowledging his receipt of the envelope and the time he had accepted it. Then he picked up one of the black telephones, dialed two digits, and ordered, "Open it up, Chief."
They could hear keys in the locks, followed by the faint whisper of the combination lock.
Banning ripped open the manila envelope. It contained another manila envelope, nearly as large. This one was stamped TOP SECRET in red ink four times on each side, and sealed with cellophane tape imprinted TOP SECRET.
He didn't open this envelope until the lieutenant commander had left the room and the chief had closed and locked the door after him again. He had to use a pocketknife to cut through the cellophane tape, very careful not to damage whatever the envelope held. Finally, he held several sheets of paper in his hand. They were typed on White House stationery, and bore the signature of Admiral William Leahy, Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief.
Each page was stamped, top and bottom:
COPY 2 OF 2
SPECIAL CHANNEL TRANSMISSION
Banning read the message through, said, "I'll be damned!" and then reached for the telephone and dialed a number from memory.
"Liberty 3-2908" a familiar voice answered.
"Sir, I respectfully suggest you come over here. Right now."
There was a pause, long enough for Banning to consider whether or not Colonel Rickabee was going to accept the suggestion.
"On my way," Colonel Rickabee said finally, and hung up.
Banning laid the message on White House stationery beside the MAGIC encryption device, made the necessary adjustments to the mechanism, and began to type. From the far side of the encryption device, a sheet of teletypewriter paper began to emerge. It was covered with apparently meaningless five-character words, in one block after another. When that process was complete, Banning tore the teletypewriter paper from the device, laid it on top of the original message, threw several switches, and began to type the encoded message back into the machine.
To ensure accuracy, standing operating procedure was to decrypt a Presidential Special Channel after it had been encrypted, so that it could be compared with the original before it was transmitted. It was a time-consuming process, and Banning wasn't quite through when the sounds of keys in the locks and the twirling of the combination device announced the arrival of Colonel Rickabee.
"Almost finished, sir," Banning said.
Rickabee waited more or less patiently for Banning to finish. And then, because it was quicker to do that than for Banning to make the comparison himself, he held the teletypewriter decryption while Banning read the original message aloud.
T 0 P S E C R E T THE WHITE HOUSE WASHINGTON 0900 8 FEBRUARY 1943 VIA SPECIAL CHANNEL GENERAL DOUGLAS MACARTHUR SUPREME COMMANDER SWPOA FOLLOWING PERSONAL FROM THE PRESIDENT TO GENERAL MACARTHUR MY DEAR DOUGLAS: I'M SURE THAT YOU WILL AGREE THE FOLLOWING IS SOMETHING AT LEAST ONE OF US SHOULD HAVE THOUGHT OF SOME TIME AGO. I WOULD APPRECIATE YOUR GETTING THIS INTO FLEMING PICKERING'S HANDS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. ELEANOR JOINS ME IN EXTENDING THE MOST CORDIAL GREETINGS TO YOU AND JEAN. AS EVER, FRANKLIN END PERSONAL FROM THE PRESIDENT TO GENERAL MACARTHUR FOLLOWING PERSONAL FROM THE PRESIDENT TO BRIG GEN PICKERING MY DEAR FLEMING: FIRST LET ME EXPRESS MY GREAT ADMIRATION FOR THE MANNER IN WHICH YOUR PEOPLE CONDUCTED THE OPERATION TO ESTABLISH CONTACT WITH WENDELL FERTIG IN THE PHILIPPINES AND MY PERSONAL DELIGHT THAT JIMMY'S COMRADE-IN-ARMS CAPTAIN MCCOY AND HIS BRAVE TEAM HAVE BEEN SAFELY EVACUATED. PLEASE RELAY TO EVERYONE CONCERNED MY VERY BEST WISHES AND GRATITUDE FOR A JOB WELL DONE. SECOND, LET ME EXPRESS MY CHAGRIN AT NOT SEEING THE OBVIOUS SOLUTION TO OUR PROBLEM VIS A VIS OSS OPERATIONS IN THE PACIFIC UNTIL, LITERALLY, LAST NIGHT. I WOULD NOT HAVE DREAMED OF COURSE OF OVER-RIDING THE WHOLLY UNDERSTANDABLE CONCERNS OF GENERAL MACARTHUR AND ADMIRAL NIMITZ THAT HAVING THE OSS OPERATE IN THEIR AREAS OF COMMAND WOULD MEAN THE INTRUSION OF STRANGERS WHICH MIGHT INTERFERE WITH THEIR OPERATIONS. IN THEIR SHOES, I WOULD HAVE BEEN SIMILARLY CONCERNED. WHAT IS NEEDED OF COURSE IS SOMEONE WHO ENJOYS THE COMPLETE TRUST OF BOTH ADMIRAL NIMITZ, GENERAL MACARTHUR AND DIRECTOR DONOVAN. I HAD FRANKLY DESPAIRED OF FINDING SUCH A PERSON UNTIL LAST NIGHT WHEN I WAS STRUCK BY SOMETHING CLOSE TO A DIVINE REVELATION WHILE HAVING DINNER WITH OUR GOOD FRIEND SENATOR RICHARDSON FOWLER AND REALIZED THAT HE ... YOU ... HAD BEEN STANDING IN FRONT OF ALL OF US ALL THE TIME. I HAVE TODAY ISSUED AN EXECUTIVE ORDER APPOINTING YOU DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF STRATEGIC SERVICES FOR PACIFIC OPERATIONS. I AM SURE THAT GENERAL MACARTHUR AND ADMIRAL NIMITZ WILL BE AS ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT THIS APPOINTMENT AS WAS DIRECTOR DONOVAN. I HAVE FURTHER INSTRUCTED ADMIRAL LEAHY TO TRANSFER ALL PERSONNEL AND EQUIPMENT OF USMC SPECIAL DETACHMENT SIXTEEN TO YOU, AND TO ARRANGE FOR THE TRANSFER OF ANY OTHER PERSONNEL YOU MAY FEEL ARE NECESSARY. WHILE YOU WILL BE REPORTING DIRECTLY TO DIRECTOR DONOVAN, LET ME ASSURE YOU THAT MY DOOR WILL ALWAYS BE OPEN TO YOU AT ALL TIMES. I LOOK FORWARD TO DISCUSSING FUTURE OPERATIONS WITH YOU JUST AS SOON AS YOU FEEL YOU CAN LEAVE BRISBANE. WITH MY WARMEST REGARDS FRANKLIN END PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT TO BRIG GEN PICKERING BY DIRECTION OF THE PRESIDENT LEAHY, ADMIRAL, USN CHIEF OF STAFF TO THE PRESIDENT T O P S E C R E T
In what was for him was an extraordinary emotional reaction, Colonel F. L. Rickabee blurted, "I will be damned!"
"Yes, sir," Banning said.
"You better take it to Radio, Ed," Rickabee said. "I'll see that this stuff is shredded and burned."
"Aye, aye, sir," Major Banning said, and reached for the phone to tell the chief to open it up.
Office of the Supreme Commander
South West Pacific Ocean Area
1505 8 February 1943
When the Military Police staff sergeant on duty in the corridor saw the Signal Corps officer approaching, he smiled at him and gave him permission to enter the outer office of the Supreme Commander with a wave of his hand.
By and large, the enlisted men of Supreme Headquarters, South West Pacific Ocean Area, liked Major Hon Song Do, Signal Corps, USAR. Not only was he a pleasant officer, who treated the troops like human beings, but he was known to be a thorn in the sides of a number of officers whom the troops by and large did not like.
"How goes it, Sergeant?" Major Hon Song Do greeted him, smiling.
He was carrying a battered, Army issue leather briefcase. It was held to his left wrist with a chain and a pair of handcuffs. The right lower pocket of his tunic sagged with the weight of a .1911A1 Colt automatic pistol.
"Can't complain, sir."
Major Hon was a very large man, heavy set and muscular, with 210 pounds distributed over six feet two inches. His thick Boston accent was a consequence of his before-the-war years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he had been a professor of theoretical mathematics.
Major Hon pushed open the door to the outer office of the Supreme Commander and walked across the room to a large desk. Behind the desk sat a tall, rather good-looking officer whose collar insignia identified him as a lieutenant colonel serving as aide-de-camp to a full (four-star) general.
"Good afternoon, sir," the Major said. "I have a Special Channel for General MacArthur."
Lieutenant Colonel Sidney Huff raised his eyes briefly from the typewritten document he was working on, then returned his attention to it. His actions were a hairsbreadth away from being insulting.
Finally, he raised his eyes to the Major. "I'll see if the Supreme Commander will see you, Major."
Now that's bullshit, Huff, and you know it. You and I both know that the arrival of a Special Channel gets El Supremo's immediate attention, ahead of anything else.
Except perhaps if he is occupying the throne in the Supreme Crapper when it gets delivered, in which case it will have to wait until he's finished taking his regal dump.
"Thank you, sir."
Major Hon was not sure why Lieutenant Colonel Huff disliked him.
One possibility was that Huff disliked Orientals, and it didn't matter whether an Oriental was the Emperor of Japan or--as he was--a Korean-American born to second-generation American-citizen parents in Hawaii, and a duly commissioned officer and gentleman by Act of Congress.
A second possibility was that it was dislike by association. Major Hon--as were the others associated with MAGIC--was assigned to the Office of Management Analysis, and were not members of MacArthur's staff. Hon's immediate superior officer was Brigadier General Fleming Pickering, USMCR, Director of the Office of Management Analysis, who didn't think much of Colonel Huff, and did not try very hard to conceal his opinion.
A third possibility--and Major Hon was growing more and more convinced this was the real reason--was that he played bridge at least once a week with the Supreme Commander and Mrs. MacArthur, and they both called him by his nickname, "Pluto." This really offended Huff's sense of propriety. A reserve officer--maybe even worse, an academic--who had not been in the Philippines with El Supremo getting close to MacArthur violated all that Huff held dear.
Colonel Huff knocked at the Supreme Commander's closed door, opened it, stepped inside, and closed the door.
A moment later, a sonorous but pleasant voice called cheerfully through the door, "Come on in, Pluto!"
Pluto Hon pushed open the door and stepped inside.
"Good afternoon, sir," he said.
General Douglas MacArthur, wearing his usual washed-thin-and-soft khakis, was at a large, map-covered table. A thick document stamped TOP SECRET that was almost certainly an Operations Order also lay on the table. "Set it on the table, Pluto," MacArthur ordered, pointing at the briefcase with a thin, black, six-inch-long, freshly lit cigar. "I suppose it would be too much to hope that it's good news for a change?"
"At first glance, sir, it strikes me as lousy news," Pluto said.
That earned him a dirty look from Colonel Huff.
Pluto set the briefcase on the table, unlocked a small padlock, removed the padlock, delved inside, and came out with a sealed manila envelope, stamped TOP SECRET in red letters. He handed it to MacArthur, who nodded his thanks, tore it open, took out two sheets of typewriter paper, and read them.
"I see what you mean, Pluto," the Supreme Commander said. "I will, pardon the French, be damned"
"Yes, sir," Pluto replied. "My sentiments exactly." He glanced at Colonel Huff, whose frustrated curiosity was evident on his face.
Another reason good ol' Sid doesn't like me. I get to know a number of things he doesn't get to know. And will not get to know unless El Supremo decides he has a reason to know.
There were only two officers in Supreme Headquarters, SWPOA, authorized access to Special Channel communications: MacArthur and his G-2 (Intelligence Officer) Brigadier General Charles A. Willoughby.
Plus, of course, the people at SWPOA who handled the actual encryption and decryption of Special Channel messages (by means of codes used for no other purpose). There were only three of them: Major Hon Song Do, USAR; First Lieutenant John Marston Moore, USMCR; and Second Lieutenant George F. Hart, USMCR.
Major Hon had been recruited from MIT to apply his knowledge of theoretical mathematics to code breaking. Cryptography and mathematics were not, however, his only talents. He was also a linguist--fluent in Korean, Japanese, and several Chinese languages. And equally important, he was an analyst of intercepted Japanese messages. He had been sent from Hawaii to Australia not only to encrypt and decrypt MAGIC messages to and from MacArthur, but also to lend his knowledge of the Japanese to the analysis of intercepted Japanese messages.
Lieutenant John Marston Moore was primarily an analyst. Because he had lived for years in Japan with his missionary parents, studied at Tokyo University, and was completely fluent in Japanese, he was deeply familiar with Japanese culture, which meant he also knew something about the Japanese mind. On the other hand, though he had learned the mechanics of cryptography, he did not, like Pluto Hon, understand the theories and mathematics behind it.
The third of Pickering's men authorized access to MAGIC, and thus the Special Channel, was Lieutenant George F. Hart. Hart spoke only English, and had a mechanical knowledge--only--of the MAGIC cryptographic device. Officially General Pickering's aide-de-camp, he was really a former St. Louis police detective who had been recruited from Marine Boot Camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, to serve as Pickering's bodyguard. As Hart thought of it, he had been taught to "operate the machine" because there was just too much work for Pluto and Moore.
Pickering himself, who was Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox's Personal Representative to both SWPOA (MacArthur) and CINCPAC (Nimitz), also had MAGIC clearance.
"Do you suppose, Pluto?" MacArthur asked thoughtfully, waving the Special Channel, "that General Pickering had any inkling of this?"
"I don't think so, General," Pluto replied. "I don't think the possibility ever entered his mind."
MacArthur grunted. "No," he said, almost to himself. "Neither do I. One generally knows precisely what Pickering is thinking."
"Yes, sir," Pluto said, chuckling.
Lieutenant Colonel Huff's curiosity was nearly out of control.
MacArthur either saw this and took pity on him, or perhaps simply decided that this was a MAGIC Special Channel message that his aide-de-camp should be familiar with. He handed it to him.
"Take a look at this, Huff," he said.
Huff took the two sheets of teletypewriter paper containing President Roosevelt's Special Channel Personal to General Douglas MacArthur and Brigadier General Fleming Pickering.
Pluto watched Huff's face as he read the message. It was a study of surprise and displeasure.
"Where is General Pickering, Pluto?" MacArthur asked. "Still on Espiritu Santo?"
"So far as I know, sir. I've had no word from him."
"You had best get the President's message to him as soon as possible," MacArthur ordered.
"I've already had Radio do that, sir."
"You didn't think, Major," Huff snapped, "that you should have waited for the Supreme Commander's authority to do so?"
Pluto's temper flared, although it did not show on his face.
"What I thought, Colonel," he said coldly, "was that General MacArthur would expect me to immediately carry out the wishes of the President."
"Absolutely," MacArthur said with a smile.
"I was thinking, sir," Huff explained, somewhat lamely, "that the President's message was classified MAGIC. There's no one on Espiritu Santo cleared for MAGIC."
"No, Colonel" Pluto said, in the manner of a professor explaining something simple to a dense student. "The President's message was classified Top Secret, not Top Secret--MAGIC. The President--or, more likely, Admiral Leahy--chose to transmit it over the Special Channel, probably because that would guarantee the most rapid transmission."
Huff's face tightened.
Whether MacArthur saw this and decided to pour oil on obviously troubled waters, or whether he was simply in a garrulous mood, he decided to change the subject. "The miracle of modern communications," he said. "Did I ever tell you, Pluto, that I am a qualified heliograph operator?"
"No, sir," Pluto said. It took him a long moment to search his brain until he could recall that the heliograph was a Spanish-American War-era method of transmitting Morse code from hilltop to hilltop using tripod-mounted mirrors to reflect the rays of the sun.
"I was seven or eight at the time," MacArthur went on. "A Signal Corps officer on my father's staff was kind enough to take the time to teach me. By the time I was finished, I could transmit twelve words per minute, which was the speed required of enlisted men assigned to such duties."
"I've only seen pictures," Pluto said.
"I believe there's a photo in my album," MacArthur said. "I'll show it to you tonight, Pluto, before we begin our bridge game."
"Thank you, sir," Pluto said.
"About half past seven?" MacArthur asked.
"Whenever it's convenient for you, sir."
"Then seven-thirty," MacArthur said. "Thank you, Pluto."
Espiritu Santo Island
New Hebrides, Southern Pacific Ocean
1620 8 February 1943
At 1130 that morning, Rear Admiral Jerome J. Henton, USN, the commander of US Navy Base (Forward) Espiritu Santo, summoned Captain Howell C. Mitchell, Medical Corps, USN, who commanded the Navy hospital, to his office. Henton told him that he was about to receive six patients, U.S. civilians, four of them female, all in need of urgent medical attention.
"Sir?" Mitchell was confused.
"They were evacuated by submarine from Mindanao, and a Catalina picked them up at sea," Admiral Henton explained.
Mitchell's eyes widened--Mindanao was in the hands of the Japanese--but he said nothing.
"It's part of a hush-hush Marine Corps operation," Henton went on. "And the man running it, Brigadier General Pickering, will probably be on the beach to meet the Cat. A very interesting man. Hell of a poker player. And--forewarned is forearmed, as they say--he has friends in very high places."
"I will treat the gentleman accordingly."
Six patients in need of urgent medical attention translated to three ambulances, Captain Mitchell ordered four ambulances to the beach, plus four doctors, four nurses, and twelve corpsmen.
When he himself arrived at the beach, he found that the ambulances were already lined up in a row, backed up to the beach. He looked around to see if General Pickering had arrived, and decided he hadn't. Neither of the two staff cars on the island used to transport flag and general officers was in sight. Nor did he see any sign of a general officer's aide-de-camp, or of a vehicle adorned with the silver star on a red tag that proclaimed it was carrying a Marine brigadier. The only other vehicles around were a three-quarter ton truck, carrying the ground crew who would guide the Catalina ashore, and a jeep. Both were parked at the far end of the line of ambulances. Only one man was in the jeep. Captain Mitchell decided the man in the jeep was probably a chief petty officer sent to supervise the beaching of the Catalina.
Before he took another look at the lone man in the jeep, Mitchell worked his way to the end of the line of ambulances, chatting for a moment with each of the doctors, nurses, and corpsmen while simultaneously checking to make sure everything was as it should be.
But when he came close enough to see who was in the jeep, he realized he'd guessed wrong. The man sent to supervise the beaching of the Catalina wasn't a chief petty officer. Pinned to the collar points of his somewhat mussed khakis were the silver stars of a brigadier general.
He walked up to the jeep and saluted.
"Good afternoon, General."
The salute was returned.
Mitchell's next thought was that General Pickering had intelligent eyes; but, more than that, he also had that hard to define yet unmistakable aura of command. This man was used to giving orders. And used to having his orders carried out.
"Afternoon, Doctor," General Pickering said, and offered his hand. And then he pointed up at the sky.
Mitchell followed the hand. The Catalina was in the last stages of its amphibious descent. And together they watched as it splashed down and taxied through the water toward the beach.
Pickering got from behind the wheel of the jeep and walked to the edge of the water.
"I'll be damned!" he said, a curious tone in his voice.
"I just saw one of my men" Pickering replied. "I really didn't think any of them would be on that airplane."
"Killer, General Pickering's on the beach," the tall, solid, not-at-all-bad-looking man peering out the portside bubble of the Catalina announced to the man standing beside him. The man who was standing kept his balance by hanging on to the exposed framing of the Catalina's interior.
The insignia pinned to the khaki fore-and-aft cap stuck through the epaulets of the khaki shirt of the man in the bubble identified him as a Navy lieutenant. His name was Chambers D. Lewis III, and he was aide-de-camp to Rear Admiral Daniel J. Wagam, who was on the staff of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific.
"Goddamn you, don't call me that," the other replied, and then the even-featured, well-built, fair-skinned young man leaned far enough into the now-water-splattered bubble to confirm Lewis's sighting. He did not look old enough to be entitled to the silver railroad tracks and Marine globe on his fore-and-aft cap that identified him as a captain, USMC. His name was Kenneth R. McCoy, and he had recently passed his twenty-second birthday.
McCoy and the other two Marines in the Catalina, Gunnery Sergeant Zimmerman and Staff Sergeant Koffler, were assigned to the USMC Office of Management Analysis. All four men had just been exfiltrated by submarine from the Japanese occupied Philippine island of Mindanao.
When Mindanao had fallen to the Japanese early in 1942, Lieutenant Colonel Wendell W. Fertig, a reserve officer of the Corps of Engineers, had refused to surrender. Instead, he'd gone into the hills, proclaimed himself to be a brigadier general in command of U.S. forces in the Philippines, and commenced guerrilla activities against the Japanese. When he'd finally managed to establish radio communication with the United States and asked for supplies, there was some question about his bona fides. For one thing, General Douglas MacArthur had firmly stated that guerrilla operations in the Philippines were impossible. For another, Army records showed only a Lieutenant Colonel Fertig, not a brigadier general.
In order to better explain these irregularities, President Roosevelt ordered the mounting of a covert operation. This would infiltrate into Mindanao to determine whether Fertig was actually commanding a bona fide guerrilla organization that could do harm to the Japanese, or a pathetic and deluded poseur who, after somehow eluding the Japanese, now had convinced himself that he was a general. Responsibility for the covert operation had been given to Brigadier General Pickering, who had sent McCoy, Zimmerman, and Koffler into the Philippines. They had infiltrated onto Mindanao on a submarine.
Lieutenant Lewis had been assigned to accompany them on the submarine--carrying with him his admiral's authority--and at the very last minute had decided to stay on Mindanao with McCoy and the others.
"Jesus!" Captain McCoy said, then turned from the bubble to a stocky, barrel-chested, ruddy-faced man who had planted himself precisely on the centerline of the fuselage floor. "That's the general, all right, Ernie. I wonder where the hell we're going now."
Ernest W. Zimmerman, who was twenty-six but looked older, grunted.
The man--the boy--beside Gunny Zimmerman looked very much as if he should be in high school and was, in fact, just a few weeks past his nineteenth birthday. But he was also, in fact, Staff Sergeant Stephen M. Koffler, USMC.
"McCoy" he asked, in a still-boyish voice. "You think maybe the General's got a letter for me?" Mrs. Daphne Koffler, Sergeant Koffler's Australian wife, was in the terminal days of her first pregnancy.
"We're back in the world, asshole," Gunny Zimmerman said. "You better get back in the habit of calling the Killer 'Captain' and 'Sir.'"
"I don't know, Koffler," Captain McCoy said. "I wouldn't get my hopes up."
There was a jolt as one of the lowered wheels encountered the sand of the beach, followed a moment later by a second jolt. The roar of the engines increased as the pilot taxied the Catalina onto the shore.
The port in the fuselage opened and Captain Howell C. Mitchell, MC, USN, stepped through it. He glanced at the four men who were standing, then turned his attention to the patients on litters.
"Doctor, would you rather we got out of the way, or got off?" McCoy asked.
"I think it would be better if you got off," Mitchell said.
"Aye, aye, sir," McCoy said, and, jerked his thumb toward the port in the fuselage, ordering the others to leave the plane.
Doctor Mitchell made the same judgment about the young Marine captain he had made about Brigadier General Pickering. This man was used to giving orders. And having them obeyed.
Koffler went through the port first, followed by Zimmerman, Lewis, and finally McCoy.
When McCoy stepped down from the plane, General Pickering had his arm around Lieutenant Lewis's shoulder and was pumping his hand.
Captain McCoy saluted.
The salute was returned with a casual wave in the direction of General Pickering's forehead, which quickly changed into an arm reaching for McCoy. The General hugged the young captain enthusiastically. To judge by the looks on their faces, few of the medical personnel had ever seen such behavior before on the part of a general. "Goddamn, I'm glad to see you guys," Pickering said, "and I've got something for you, Ken."
Pickering walked quickly to his jeep, opened a battered leather briefcase, and withdrew from it a heavy envelope, large enough to hold several business-size envelopes inside. He walked back to McCoy and handed it to him.
McCoy looked at it.
The return address was "Office of Management Analysis, HQ USMC, Washington, D.C."
It was addressed to General Pickering, at Supreme Headquarters, South West Pacific Ocean Area. And it had two messages stamped in red ink: BY HAND OFFICER COURIER ONLY; and ADDRESSEE ONLY.
McCoy looked at General Pickering. Smiling, Pickering gestured for him to open the envelope. It was not sealed. It contained two smaller envelopes. These bore a printed return address on the back:
Miss Ernestine Sage
Rocky Fields Farm
Without really realizing what he was doing, Captain McCoy raised one of the envelopes to his nose and sniffed.
Oh, God, I can smell her!
Captain McCoy closed his eyes, which had suddenly watered. When he opened them, he saw Staff Sergeant Koffler looking at him as if someone had stolen his little rubber ducky.
If there had been a letter from Daphne for him, McCoy thought, the general would already have given it to him.
With a massive effort, Captain McCoy managed to push down the lump in his throat. "Thank you, sir," he said. "I'll read these later. General, what's the word on Mrs. Koffler?"
"She's fine, Koffler," General Pickering said, looking at him. "I told Pluto to bring her to meet the plane tomorrow. And he has had standing orders to let me know immediately if the baby decides to arrive."
Koffler nodded but didn't seem to be able to speak.
It got worse.
A Corpsman chief came up and tugged on McCoy's sleeve.
McCoy gave him a look that would have withered a lesser man.
"Captain, one of the ladies wants to talk to you," the Corpsman chief said.
"Very well," McCoy said, sounding crisply nautical, and followed the chief to a stretcher being carried by two Corpsmen.
It held a skeletal, silver-haired woman. Her eyes were sunken and her skin translucent, so that her veins showed blue. A bony hand rose from beneath the Navy blanket and reached out toward McCoy. It took him a moment to realize she wanted him to lean over so her bony hand could touch him. "God bless, thank you, God bless," the woman said faintly. "Thank you. God bless you"
McCoy gently touched the hand on his face, and then it was beyond his ability to maintain the dignity expected of a Marine officer.
His eyes closed, and tears ran down his cheeks. His chest heaved and hurt as he tried and failed to control his sobs.
Next he became aware of an arm around his shoulder.
He opened his eyes.
"I just happen to have a couple of bottles of Famous Grouse in my hut," General Pickering said. "I don't suppose you'd really be interested, would you?"
"Shit!" McCoy said.
He looked around. The ambulances were moving off the beach.
He remembered what he had just said.
"Let's go have a drink. Several drinks," General Pickering said, and gently pushed McCoy in the direction of his jeep.
Flag Officers' Quarters #4
U.S. Navy Base (Forward) Espiritu Santo
New Hebrides, Southern Pacific Ocean
2245 8 February 1943
Brigadier General Fleming Pickering, USMCR, knocked at the door of one of the three small bedrooms in the Quonset hut he had been assigned.
"Yeah, come in," Captain Kenneth R. McCoy called, and Pickering pushed the door open.
McCoy was lying on the steel cot in his underwear, propped up against the wall with a pillow. He had a thin black cigar in his mouth, and there was a bottle of Famous Grouse scotch whisky on the small bedside table beside him.
He was reading Ernie Sage's letters.
The instant McCoy saw Pickering, he started to jump to his feet.
"Stay where you are, Ken," Pickering said quickly.
McCoy nevertheless rose to his feet.
"Do you have another glass?" Pickering asked.
"Yes, sir," McCoy said, stuffed Ernie Sage's letters under his pillow, then walked to a chest of drawers and picked up a glass.
"I was in before," Pickering said. "You were out." It was a question.
"I was checking on Koffler and the gunny," McCoy said, handing the glass to Pickering.
"And?" Pickering asked, as he walked to the bedside table and poured an inch and a half of Famous Grouse into the glass.
"The gunny's playing poker with some chiefs," McCoy said, and smiled. "Who were in the process of learning that all Marines aren't as dumb as they think we are."
"Zimmerman's a good poker player?" Pickering asked.
"There was a lot of poker playing in Shanghai in the old days," McCoy said. "The second time Zimmerman lost his pay, Mae Su--his wife, I guess you should call her--taught him how to play. The Chinese are great poker players."
"Yes, I know," Pickering said. "It was an expensive lesson for me to learn when I was a young man."
They smiled at each other.
"Ah, the good old days!" Pickering said, then asked: "what did Ernie have to say?"
"She was a little pissed with me. Just before we went into Mindanao, I wrote her that if anything happened, she could do a lot worse than marrying Pick" He met Pickering's eyes as he said this.
Captain McCoy and First Lieutenant Malcolm S. "Pick" Pickering, USMCR, General Pickering's only son, had met and become friends at Officer Candidate School.
"She's in love with you, Ken, not Pick. She told me. And you know that."
"Yeah," McCoy said. "She said that, too."
"That's all she said? There were two letters."
"She said there's going to be female Marines, and she's thinking of joining up." The look on his face made his opinion of females in the Marine Corps very evident.
"I gather you don't approve?" Pickering asked dryly.
"Jesus! Women Marines?"
Pickering chuckled, then changed the subject. "I need to know what you really think of General Fertig," he said. "Just between us."
"Interesting guy," McCoy said, admiringly. "Knows what he's doing. Knows the Filipinos."
"Is he going to be able to do some damage to the Japanese?"
"If we get him the supplies he needs, he'll cause them a lot of grief."
"In other words, you would say that he is in full possession of his mental faculties? Not suffering from the stress of what happened to him in the Philippines? Or delusions of grandeur?"
"He's a lot saner than a lot of people I know," McCoy said. "Putting on that general's star was really smart. Nobody, Filipino or American, would have put themselves under the command of a reserve lieutenant colonel."
"That's how you really feel?"
"Then that's what I want you to tell El Supremo," Pickering said, matter-of-factly, "and the President."
"Sir?" McCoy asked.
"That's what I want you to tell General MacArthur and President Roosevelt."
When we're alone, sometimes, Pickering thought, he deals with me like a man who's a friend. But the moment he's not sure of himself, hears something he doesn't like, he crawls behind that shield of military courtesy, that protective womb of superior and subordinate, and starts calling me "Sir."
"You remember Weston?" Pickering asked. "The guerrilla officer you sent out? The guy with the beard?"
"I only saw him for a few minutes on the beach."
"Well, in case you don't know, he was a Marine pilot who got caught in the Philippines, escaped from Luzon, and went to Mindanao. He was Fertig's intelligence officer."
"Fertig was sore as hell when he heard I'd ordered him out."
"I can understand why. But it was the right thing to do," Pickering said. "Anyway, I ran him past MacArthur and Willoughby. Still wearing his beard, by the way. I thought he made a good impression, and said some good things about Fertig and his operation, but I'm a little worried that by now El Supremo and Willoughby have managed to convince themselves that, fine young officer or not, all he is is a junior officer whose judgments can't really be trusted."
"Sir, I'm a junior officer."
"Who is going to brief the Secretary of the Navy and the President of the United States. I think it's important that El Supremo know what you're going to tell them. It may change his thinking about the impossibility of guerrilla activity in the Philippines, and about General Fertig."
"Sir, I don't suppose there's any way ..."
"You can get out of it? No. Ken. It's important. You have to do it."
"Aye, aye, sir," McCoy said.
"There's something else, Ken," Pickering said, and reached into the pocket of his khaki shirt. "This is why Admiral Henton sent his aide to take me away from our welcome-home dinner."
He handed McCoy several sheets of paper stamped TOP SECRET.
McCoy carefully read the Personal From The Commander in Chief.
"Jesus H. Christ!" McCoy said.
"Welcome to the OSS, Captain McCoy," Pickering said. He saw on McCoy's face that McCoy didn't like that at all. "I'm sorry, Ken" Pickering said sincerely. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do now, but whatever it is, I'm going to need you to help me do it."
McCoy met his eyes for a long moment.
"Am I allowed to ask questions?"
"I'll answer any question I can."
"What happens to that Gobi Desert operation? Are you still going to be responsible for that?"
Before being ordered into the Philippines, McCoy had been in the first stages of planning an operation in which he would somehow--probably by parachute--be infiltrated into the Gobi Desert to see if he could establish contact with some Americans thought to be there.
Christ, I'd almost forgotten about that. But he didn't, I pulled him off of that to send him into the Philippines. And all the time he was there, he was wondering, "What next? The Gobi Desert?"
"I don't know, Ken," Pickering said. "I don't want you to get your hopes up about not having to be in on that, but that's a Management Analysis operation. We don't work for Management Analysis anymore. And I really don't think you can consider the Gobi Desert as being in the Pacific."
McCoy, still meeting his eyes, thought that over for a moment without expression.
"Aye, aye, sir," he said finally.
That means, of course, that he thinks I'm wrong.