The Harbor Watcher

Illustration to accompany The Harbor Watcher. Copyright(c) 2017 by Toe Keen. Used under license

Story by Martin Grise/ Illustration by Toe Keen

Jan Tangen, the towering, red-headed, red-bearded, soft-spoken Norwegian, and Cristian Valencia, the diminutive, olive-skinned ne’er-do-well with a sardonic grin and passports from three Latin American nations, were drinking Gilbey’s in Rudy’s Bar and Grill in the Tenderloin at two o’clock on a Wednesday morning. Despite their garrulous dispositions and notable generosity, evidenced by the numerous drinks they bought for the late-night barflies, they were not in Rudy’s for pleasure. Many lives, and not an inconsiderable sum of money, hung in the balance.

The two had recently taken a new assignment with their sometime employer, His Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service. It was September of 1940, a restive time even in neutral America, and particularly tense in New York, especially for the British. Most of Western Europe was in Nazi hands at the time, and the bombing campaign against London at its height; most Americans expected Great Britain to ask for an armistice any day. British Intelligence was decimated, having lost most of its experienced agents on the continent to the blitz. Their North American operations, designed mainly to shift American public opinion to Great Britain’s advantage, were headed by a dapper Canadian of deceptively mild demeanor.

It was this man, named Stephenson, whom the twain had met in the offices of the “British Security Coordination” on the 35th floor of Rockefeller Center. Stephenson was officially known as a “Passport Control Official;” Tangen and Valencia had heard that he had Churchill’s ear and, more importantly, his trust. Stephenson’s visitors had already worked for MI6 in the earliest days of the war, passing intelligence reports from Bayonne to the Azores via Lisbon, planting portable navigation lights on lonely Scandinavian beaches and hilltops, counting German transports transiting The Great Belt, guiding downed British aviators and failed spies across the Pyrenees and into Madrid, and even assassinating two U-boat captains in Dublin who thought neutral Ireland would be a safe harbor for a bit of R&R. Their backgrounds in the seedier aspects of life’s rich pageant were well-suited to such tasks. Cristian, more commonly known as El Gato in the streets and alleyways, was an infamously capable thief and con man, a smuggler of proscribed items and people, and a wily gambler, even when he wasn’t cheating. Jan, a former soldier and sailor, commonly moved among revolutionaries, immigrants, and refugees, staying clothed and fed by whatever means necessary, though he had a more political bent than his small companion: The Nazis killed his family during their invasion of his homeland, and he watched for any opportunity to exact revenge; if there was a profit to be made in the process, so much the better.

Stephenson did not like such men, but he did appreciate what they had to offer, particularly in these difficult times. Although his job mainly involved influencing American politics, media, and culture with stories of fascist atrocities, he was also charged with carrying out counter-espionage in the U.S. Several British merchant ships carrying badly-needed supplies from New York to Liverpool had recently been intercepted and sunk by U-boats just outside U.S. territorial waters. Royal Navy analysts believed the attacks were too well-timed and consistent to be the result of luck – the Nazis must have someone watching the harbors of New York and New Jersey and communicating with Kriegsmarine Command about ship movements. There was little Stephenson and MI6 could do about it, as they lacked authority to operate in the U.S. Hoover’s FBI was, of course, as keen as ever to catch and deport unregistered foreign agents in the U.S., but they’d been unable to detect the group conducting this surveillance. Furthermore, Hoover was ill-disposed towards Stephenson, whom he viewed as just another foreign agent; he was as likely to deport the Canadian as he was the fascists. Although FDR sympathized with Stephenson’s position, America was still neutral and the President could do nothing about it.

Between the failure of the FBI and the lack of trained MI6 agents in the states, Stephenson was forced to depend on amateurs such as the profoundly slippery and dangerous pair in his office that September afternoon. He explained that he needed them to discover the person or group reporting on British ship movements in New York and, in particular, their connection to the German government. There was only a single lead: MI6 had intercepted coded Abwehr communications indicating that certain Italian immigrants in New York, still loyal to Mussolini unlike most of their Italian-American brethren, were involved in some sort of intelligence-gathering in the city. They might or might not be the harbor watchers, but Stephenson had no other leads and knew that Valencia, with his connections to New York organized crime, might be able to ferret them out. A gigantic Norwegian veteran with revenge on his mind would make a useful companion in the venture, especially in the second phase of the operation. Although the FBI could arrest and deport foreign spies operating in the states, it would require considerable evidence to do so, and Stephenson and his country did not have the luxury of time. Therefore, the contract also required the pair to neutralize all those involved in the scheme, regardless of rank or nationality. Naturally, American authorities from Hoover down to the NYPD would arrest them if they were discovered, and Stephenson would deny all knowledge of them in that event.

Tangen listened to the proposal wordlessly, nodding silently at the end, and El Gato purred that this wasn’t such a difficult task and that they would quickly deliver satisfactory results. The topic of remuneration was broached and an agreement quickly made. The pair left Stephenson’s office and returned to their suite on the fifth floor of the Kelso Hotel on Delancey Street between Suffolk and Clinton. They had one bedroom, a small parlor with a fireplace, and a small but serviceable kitchenette. It was a nicer hotel than they could usually afford, but the owner owed them a favor for past services rendered, and the two never failed to remind people of those.

“About time we’re awarded a plum job!” crowed Cristian as they opened a bottle of Cuervo in their suite. He was a full two feet shorter than his companion. “No tramping through the mountains. No shooting it out with fascist patrols. Just hang around the dives, drinking with longshoremen until someone talks too much!”

“I like the mountains,” protested Jan. “And what’s wrong with killing Nazis?”

“This is better pay for less work. And it’ll be over quick, I promise. A few days of pumping these slobs fulla cheap grappa, and someone’ll run their mouths.”

“I’m curious to see who the German contact is.”

“Soon. Then we hang the bastard and collect our pay.”

It sounded very easy to Jan, and that worried him.

They spent the next two weeks in some of the poorest parts of the city, haunting the bars, restaurants, and gaming halls catering to Italian immigrants, watching for anyone expressing sympathy for Il Duce. They dined at Rao’s in East Harlem, drank at the Mulberry Street Bar in Little Italy, and prowled the hundreds of humble dives in the Bowery. Cristian remembered many of the men in those places, and reintroduced himself and chatted cordially, supplying the drinks to oil their lips. The pair offhandedly asked shrewd questions about how friends were doing in the neighborhood those days, or who had maintained close links with the old world, listening carefully for signs that someone was spending more money than usual or bragging that their latest hustle would shortly make them rich. The pair’s dangerous reputation was as useful as the booze, as their intimidating presence kept everyone in a respectful mood. Anyone familiar with them knew that, despite appearances, this was not the big dumb one / smart little one partnership of cheap novels and Hollywood films. No one thought to separate them to con Jan out of his money and beat Cristian out of his. El Gato carried two stilettos which appeared only as flashes in his hands and pierced with the precision of the surgeon’s lancet, and Jan’s mind was as sharp and quick as his partner’s blades.

And while the partners conducted their subtle inquiries in the seedy streets, they also found the opportunity to keep more pleasant company. They had arranged to make weekly reports to their BSC contact, a bland and unassuming Mr. Johnson, who posed as an administrator with the British War Relief Society on 5th Avenue. During their first meeting at the BWRS office, Johnson called ahead to warn Cristian and Jan that he would be late to the meeting, apologizing for the delay. While they sat in the waiting room of the office, two young women appeared: Alis, a tall, freckled, fair-skinned Welsh girl, and Chloe, a petite, green-eyed Irish brunette. The ladies felt sorry for the two for having to wait and had brought them china cups of Oolong on a silver tray. The women were both volunteers with Bundles for Britain, and they ran all day from one place to the next, collecting warm clothes to be sent to Britain by ship to aid those rendered homeless by the German air blitz. Cristian regaled them with the less incriminating stories of their travels, and Jan offhandedly mentioned the loss of his family. Alis explained that she had lost her husband in France and had come over to volunteer with BWRS to do what little she could. Chloe, her former schoolmate, had joined her mainly for the adventure; now she grinned at Cristian’s boyish bravado. The two women shared a room in a boarding house and kept the same shift schedule. When Johnson returned, the two freelancers made sure to get the ladies’ phone number and promised to call soon.

And so the pair met the two British volunteers twice in the next week, first taking them out to a movie, and then back to the Kelso to cook a simple meal together. It was much cheaper than the good restaurants, and none of the four had any more money than they needed.

These visits from the ladies were the high point of the week for, despite Cristian’s confidence, they made no progress in the bars, penny arcades, and streets when it came to discovering their quarry. There was plenty of talk, but none of it useful.

“I should’ve gone straight to their old Italian grannies for the scuttlebutt,” said Cristian as they walked to the next bar. “They know more than anyone in East Harlem; more than the priests, more than the bartenders.”

“You could at least get us invited over for Sunday dinner,” Jan replied. “A home-cooked meal would make a nice change.”

“We’re doing fine, cooking with the girls.”

“But we’re no closer to find our man, or men.”

“We just have to stick with it. We can make some money on the side to keep us going. Someone in these streets knows who we’re looking for.”

But, for another week, their inquiries failed to locate the harbor watcher.

The next weekend, after another report to Mr. Johnson, Cristian and Jan took Chloe and Alis to a cinema after some debate over which movie to see. Jan was for The Foreign Correspondent, and Cristian, The Sea Hawks.  But Alis told them, when asked, that she wasn’t in the mood for either, and the men deferred. Chloe was up for anything, though she really liked Katherine Hepburn. So The Philadelphia Story it was.

“I just adore her accent!” Chloe said in the café afterward. “It’s absolutely delicious!”

“Yours is much sweeter, my dear,” Cristian promised her. “There’s no better accent than the Irish.”

“Yours is an odd one,” she said. “Where are you from originally?”

“A lot of places.”

“Fine, keep it a mystery. I like it that way.”

She took his hands in hers on the tabletop and rested her head on his shoulder. In typical style, Cristian let his gaze wander to another woman – Alis was sitting across from him. She was staring blankly at the tabletop, her eyes focused on something impossibly out of reach. Cristian knew that look. A lot of Europeans had it these days.

“I’ll get us a couple of bottles,” he announced. “Jan, come with me a moment. Point out that wine shop you spotted on the way in.” Jan understood and followed him out onto the sidewalk.

“Do you think we could take them both back to our place?” asked Cristian. “There’s enough room for all of us. I’m sure Chloe would be fine with it.”

“I don’t think Alis would be.”

Cristian was about to make a cocky crack about Alis’ dour demeanor, but the joke stuck in his throat.

“Then we’ll have to split up,” he said instead. “I’ll take Chloe to our place.”

“Very well. Good luck.”

“Hardly think I’ll need it, for a change.”

Cristian called Chloe out to the street to help him pick the wine. “I’ll need your opinion on this, my dear. Rio Tinto? Or the Argentine Malbec? That’s the finest in the world.”

“You’re an Argentine?”

“Yeah, let’s go with that. I’m actually a gaucho, you know.”

“Oh, I like that!”

Alis smiled sadly when Jan met her back at the table. She put on her jacket and took his hand, and they silently walked up Forsyth Street. Jan watched the people passing them on the sidewalk. Their faces lacked the hard expressions and hollow-eyed stares he’d seen on the streets of London, Amsterdam, or Trondheim. While America was still experiencing the lingering effects of the Depression, and watching European affairs with dismay and growing concern, New Yorkers had not lost homes or family to shells and bombs. Jan thought that, most likely, they would not completely rouse from their sleepy self-concern until the thunder of bombs finally awakened them.

They went up the stairs to the apartment, lit only by incandescent streetlights through the windows, and wordlessly dropped their jackets over the back of the sofa. Alis took a bottle of Glenmorangie from the cabinet with two glasses and poured the drinks, handing one to Jan. He watched silently as she drained the entire glass at once.

“I need to forget,” she said quietly.

Jan nodded…forget her lost husband, her lost family, the lost homes with all the joy they’d held for generations. For many others, lost freedom as well, lost pride, and the fact that there was almost nothing you could do about it as one person in a vast fire that stretched across everything you knew. If you tried to forget too many times, you knew that you were doing it and it didn’t help as much. Still, it was better than the numbing, monotonous despair, so tonight they would forget one more time in a city that couldn’t understand them.

— ♦♦♦ —

The next morning, after Chloe left, Cristian hit the bad places to continue the search for the harbor watcher. He left a note for Jan in the hopes that the big Norwegian would meet him on the streets or in the bars. He wandered from one place to the next, focusing on the places frequented by Italian immigrants. He took the opportunity to shoot dice and play a hand or two of poker in the backs of the pubs in order to pay for the drinks he was buying out front. It felt odd to be out without Jan, and the men in the bars asked where his comrade was. While he actually came out ahead on the money, he was no closer to learning the identity of the harbor watcher. He was starting to doubt Stephenson’s assumption that there even was a harbor watcher, or that the agent was a member of the Italian community. He was sure he’d have discovered his identity by now.

When he got back to the apartment at dinner time, he found Jan relaxing with a drink in front of the fireplace.

“Why aren’t you out in the bars, trying to find our man?” snapped Cristian. “I spent all day listening to drunks babble on and on.”

“I’ve got the solution to our problem,” said Jan.

“Oh, you do? Please share. This oughta be good.”

“It’s already put into effect,” said Jan, sipping his Crab Orchard with great casualness.

“Then tell me who the agent is!”

“I don’t know yet, but we’ll know before the sun comes up tomorrow morning.”

“How?”

“The girls are sailing in two weeks,” said Jan. “Back to England.”

“They are? Chloe didn’t say anything about it. Well, she wouldn’t wanna break the mood with talk of leaving. I can see Alis doing that, though.”

“Yes, she told me this morning. And the odds are high that they’ll be killed in a U-boat attack.”

Cristian hadn’t thought of that.

“Then we need to find the harbor watcher fast,” he said quietly. “God only knows how.”

“I already took care of it, little thief.”

How, fish-eater?”

“I was down in the bars today,” said Jan. “But instead of asking questions, I was giving information. I told everyone that we were hired to hunt down the harbor watcher, and that we’d kill him when we found him.”

El Gato’s eyes widened.

“It’s so simple. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before,” said Jan. “Now our man will come to us. I made sure everyone knows where we’re staying, down to the room. Told them that we’re moving in the morning, just to give our man a sense of urgency. All we have to do is capture him when he comes and force him to tell us who his German contact is.”

“All we have to do is capture a bunch of armed killers when they show up tonight!”

“Yes,” said Jan. “If we don’t, Alis and Chloe may be the next casualties of this war.”

Cristian looked at the clock, the ticking of which now seemed greatly magnified.

— ♦♦♦ —

At about three in the morning, a single figure slipped through a narrow, lightless alleyway and entered the courtyard behind the Kelso Hotel. The muddy square, hemmed in on all sides by tall buildings, was full of trash and tall weeds, piles of broken bricks and concrete, and scraggly trees. Clotheslines hung over the courtyard between the buildings. The dark-cloaked figure, with a rifle slung over one shoulder and a ski mask on his face, paused to look up several floors and count windows until he knew he was looking at the rear window of Room 55 on the fifth floor of the Kelso. The light was out in the window. He mounted the back fire escape of a tenement on Clinton Street, on the left side of the courtyard, and quietly began to climb.

He failed to notice another figure in a black wool coat with a black scarf obscuring his face and copper hair. Jan watched the rifleman going up the fire escape and knew he was a sniper dispatched to kill him and El Gato if they fled through their rear window and onto the Kelso’s fire escape. He also knew that he needed to move now, before the rifleman got into position. He crept between the piles of trash to the fire escape his target had just begun climbing, timing his footsteps with his quarry’s to cover the sound.

Jan was halfway up the steps when the sniper lay down at the end of the platform on the fifth floor, lining up a clear shot of their hotel window through the hanging laundry. Jan moved very carefully, shifting his weight slowly, as any sound would now be unmasked. He continued patiently until he was on the steps just below the fifth floor platform of the fire escape and drew a short length of lead pipe from his belt.

When he reached the top of the steps, he charged forward, and the rifleman had enough time to look over his shoulder; then Jan’s pipe met his skull with a thump – a carefully-calculated blow, as Jan did not want the man dead, at least not yet.

At about the same time, a black Ford Tutor sedan parked near the front doors of the Kelso. Two men in cheap black suits and grey felt hats emerged and opened the trunk, from which they extracted guitar cases. Wordlessly, the pair proceeded to the doors of the Kelso, just up the sidewalk. Neither of them noticed that the street lamps in front of the hotel seemed to be broken.

By the doors, three men and a boy stood around a fire in a steel drum. Their clothes were tattered and soiled, with hoods obscuring their faces.

When the two men in suits approached, the boy held out a tin can, his face downturned, while the other beggars drew up behind him.

“A dime, gentlemen?” the boy squeaked. “A nickel?”

“Outta the way,” growled one of the newcomers.

“Just a few pennies, sir?” begged the waif.

One of the men pushed him aside and continued with his associate in tow. The beggars parted to let the suited men pass between them – which they foolishly did.

Blackjacks appeared in a blur, striking hard on the backs of skulls. The beggars quickly secured the men’s hands behind their backs with clothesline and gagged them with rags. They carried the prisoners into the deserted lobby, up the clackety elevator to the fifth floor, and into Cristian’s apartment, where a tarp was laid on the floor. Just as they finished, Jan tapped on the window and Cristian opened it. The Norwegian had carried the sniper over his shoulder and up the fire escape at the back of the hotel and now deposited him unceremoniously on the tarp with a thud.

El Gato’s beggars (who were uncomfortably close to being real beggars, and so accepted his job offer) laid their prisoners on the tarp, still trussed up, and removed their wallets and keys, handing them over to their boss. Cristian looked over the driver’s licenses and union cards from the wallets while Jan dosed the prisoners into consciousness with smelling salts. The three gangsters found their own weapons, the sniper’s rifle and two Tommy guns, leveled at them. With the stage set, Cristian opened the scene by nonchalantly lighting a cigarette.

“Gentlemen,” be began with a warm smile, “At least one of you has been watching His Majesty’s ships leaving this fine city, and passing the information to Der Fuhrer. If that wasn’t so, you wouldn’t have come here tonight. So, the question before us is: who is the guilty party?”

He looked at each of them and received glares in return.

“That’s a shame,” he cooed. “We’ll have to extract the information the hard way.”

“You better not touch us, pee-wee,” growled one of the prisoners. “We’re connected. Joe Bonanno – ever heard of him?”

“I have, Piero Romano. Even had dinner with him once. And while I’d rather not irritate that gentleman, I’m afraid it’s necessary. So, you first.”

Cristian and Jan dragged the bound man into the bathroom, leaving the beggar band to watch over the other two with the guns.

“Put him in the bathtub, Jan,” said Cristian. “It’ll be easier to clean up that way.” Then he closed the door.

The men in the parlor could hear only muffled voices through the door. The voices soon changed to pitiful cries, like someone in extreme pain wailing through a rag. There was thumping and thrashing, then silence. The beggars grinned when they saw the prisoners’ eyes widen and sweat bead on their foreheads.

After what seemed like an hour, Cristian and Jan emerged carrying Romano between them, dropping his limp body on the tarp. Blood ran from his mouth as if he’d endured a botched dental surgery, and he lay as still as death.

“Let’s get to work on your sniper,” Cristian told Jan. “Maybe he can fill in some of the gaps.”

The pair took the rifleman into the bathroom, but the interrogation was much quicker this time, without any unpleasant noises. They dragged the man back out, still conscious.

“Both of your associates have betrayed you, Rossi,” said Cristian with the air of a prosecuting attorney. “You’re our harbor watcher. Now all I need is the name and address of your German contact.”

“Bonanno is gonna skin both of you alive!” barked Rossi. Jan silenced him with a rap of his lead pipe across the bridge of the mobster’s nose.

“You won’t be around to see it!” hissed Gato, the false warmth gone from his voice. “Here’s our offer. Tell us who he is, and the three of you get to live. Otherwise, we’ll beat it outta you, grind you up, and feed you to the dogs at the docks.”

The harbor watcher looked down on his bloody, unconscious companion, and came to the sensible conclusion.

Jan and Cristian left the prisoners in the safekeeping of Cristian’s heavily-armed beggars and helped themselves to Rossi’s car. Jan grinned to himself during the ride, remembering Cristian’s performance in the bathroom. He’d scared the first gangster properly by showing him some woodworking tools and dental instruments, describing in great detail the horrific things he planned to do with them. Then, after the man had ratted on his companion, Gato and Jan had knocked him out with a rag soaked in chloroform, and Cristian had faked the screams of pain very authentically. Then they smeared the man’s face with pig’s blood from the nearby butcher shop to complete the scene. They had been busy since dinner, preparing the props and scenery for the evening, but their show had paid off. A manager at the Port Authority! A better position from which to watch ship movements could hardly be imagined, Jan thought. Hell, Rossi didn’t even need to actually watch ships; he had but to check the harbor records for planned departure times.

Now, shortly before sunrise, they arrived at the run-down apartment where Rossi lived alone. Cristian insisted that they needed some evidence of the crime to help them deal with Bonanno. Cristian had the keys to the apartment and unlocked the door.

When they switched on the light, they both grinned at the large flag of the National Fascist Party of Italy and portraits of its Duce that hung on the walls. Fascists, thought Jan, are never given to subtlety. They searched the apartment minutely and found copies of Port Authority harbor records with the names of British ships circled in red and their arrival and departure times underlined. It seemed that Rossi could report the movements of all British ships in the six main New York / New Jersey ports for the next two weeks. And then they found the address of one Lukas Fischer, a German businessman working in Bayer’s New York sales offices. It was nice to see that Rossi had told them the truth.

— ♦♦♦ —

That evening, Lukas Fischer sipped his Underberg schnapps while perusing the Wall Street Journal after a long day at the office. Finally, around midnight, his eyes burned too badly to continue and he retired to bed. He had almost drifted off to sleep when he thought he heard small sounds in his Brooklyn home.

“What do we do with him, brother?” whispered a silvery voice.

“He has blood on his hands,” grumbled a much deeper one.

Fischer lay still, thinking he had just dreamed those sounds. There was a long silence, and he finally believed he was right. But then the noises returned, seemingly closer this time:

“Their voices cry out for vengeance, if you can hear them.”

“I do hear them.”

The German, with rising anxiety, convinced himself that there must be people passing on the sidewalk outside his window. It was almost entirely dark in the house, with just a little pale light seeping in under the blinds. His bedroom door was open. Now he lay wide-eyed, listening intently.

“The letters we found prove his guilt. He passes word to his Fuhrer by way of Spanish and Portuguese sailors.”

“He convicts himself in his eyes. That’s not the look of an innocent man.”

That last gave Fischer the hair-raising sensation that the speakers could see him. In a panic, he sat up and whipped open the drawer of the night stand alongside the bed, drawing out a Luger. He sat perfectly still, heart racing, straining to see into the murky darkness. He put off the safety on the pistol.

Now he could vaguely make out two figures in the room, one large and one small, at the foot of the bed. The cry of fear stuck in his throat and came out as a choked gasp, but he leveled the gun on the larger figure and snapped the trigger.

Click.

“He is yours, brother. For all those you have lost.”

Above Lukas Fischer loomed a ghostly, ghastly bearded face, grinning like a skull.

— ♦♦♦ —

In the morning, Cristian called Robert Basso, Joseph Bonanno’s consigliere. Cristian told the mobster that he had hard evidence that Rossi had been working for the German government. He offered a deal: he would release Rossi and his two associates, as well as decline to share the evidence with Edgar J. Hoover. In return, Bonanno didn’t touch Cristian and Jan, and Rossi didn’t get mixed up with fascists again. Generally, the Five Families of New York were anti-fascist, so word of Bonanno’s indirect collusion with Nazis would have consequences even more dire than Hoover’s attentions. Furthermore, Bonanno had to consider the fact that the pair had been quite restrained in their treatment of his men. Basso quickly got back to Cristian with word that Bonanno agreed to the terms. Cristian then released the mobsters and paid off his beggar detachment.

The pair then called Johnson at BWRS and arranged a meeting. They gave him all the documentary evidence they had gathered, plus a short and mildly melodramatic report they’d composed while drinking the bottle of Nardini they’d liberated from Rossi’s liquor cabinet. Two days later, Johnson called them and asked them to come around the office just after closing time. There, he presented them with a manila envelope containing their cash reward and a short note in Stephenson’s beautiful handwriting. Stephenson thanked them in the name of His Britannic Majesty for services rendered, and also informed them that, since Rossi had information on sailings for the next two weeks, all British ships in the New York area would remain in port for three weeks to avoid the U-boat dragnet.

“Why did Stephenson mention that?” Jan asked Cristian.

“The sailing delay?”

“Yes. Why did he think that would concern us?”

“Well…wait, does he know about us and the girls?”

“How could he?” said Jan. “They don’t work for him. Or maybe they do?”

“So what if they do?” asked Cristian.

“We went three weeks without finding the harbor watcher. Maybe Stephenson, or whatever his name really is, told the girls to tell us that they were leaving in two weeks, to force us to get the job done quickly.”

“Brother, you’re thinking too tricky,” said Gato. But then he fell into silent thought, staring at Stephenson’s note. Had their girls been playing them the whole time? And had Stephenson even arranged their amorous adventure, the better to control them?

Then he looked at the neat stack of crisp bills secured with a paper band and shook his head. What does it matter? He thought. We’ve got the money.

At that moment, Alis and Chloe came into the office together, having just finished their shift, and smiled at the two of them.

And we’ve got our girls as well, for three weeks.

The two couples walked arm-in-arm out onto the streets of Manhattan.

“Which way, ladies?” asked Jan.

“Oh, you boys choose,” said Alis.

“We’ve got money in our wallets now,” beamed Cristian. “Let’s go to the Stork Club!”

“How about the Rainbow Room?” asked Chloe.

“Another good one. My, tough choices.”

“We can go to a new one every night until we hit them all,” said Chloe, leaning into him fondly.

Jan put his arm around Alis’ shoulder and hugged her to him as they walked. Even if the girls really were staying for only three weeks – and who knew if they were? – it would make a nice R&R, he thought, even if it did put a dent in the reward money. In this self-absorbed metropolis, he and Alis could forget the war for a little while; then he’d return to cold nights of whispering in the dark and hiding from spotlights, the heart-pounding ambushes in border town streets and lonely moors, the comings and vanishings of tight-lipped spies and hard-bitten resistance fighters. He and Cristian might as well spend the money in New York, because they never knew when the end would come. Anyway, he thought, they’d always be able to make more money while they remained above ground. He was grimly confident that there would be plenty of opportunity for revenge and reward in the years ahead.

— ♦♦♦ —

END


Next Week: Thumbnail illustration to accompany Smoke is My Shadow. Copyright(c) 2017 by John Waltrip. Used under license

Smoke is My Shadow

By Lee Blevins, Art by John Waltrip

Next week, we feature an interesting blend of hardboiled and paranormal. “Smoke is My Shadow” by Lee Blevins finds a PI suddenly adrift after an explosion leaves him somewhere between life and death.  But PI Gavel isn’t going to let a little thing like being incorporeal stop him from solving the case and bringing justice to those responsible for his …death?  You’ll enjoy this blend.