The two main characters in this story are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. All other characters are mine except those two titans of American history; FDR and George C. Marshall. This tale depicts the two main characters as something more that just friends. This story also contains descriptions of violence and many instances of graphic language including the "F" word so be forewarned. It also contains a few references to the Japanese people that are, of course, very inappropriate today but one must remember the time frame of this story, especially after the events of December 7, 1941.
It must be stated the "Legend of Monsopiad" related in this story is not mine. It is my understanding this is an actual Kadazan legend and while I did add some details to make it fit into context, the main part of the legend remains unaltered.
New York City, November, 1941
Bam! Bam! Bam!
"What the hell?"
Janice Covington rolled over and cast a bleary eye at the clock by her bed. It read 3:20.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
From the other side of the door a low voice said, "Open up please. We need to talk to you."
As soon as Janice came to a sitting position on the side of the bed her head began to feel as though there was a little gremlin inside trying to bust his way out with a sledgehammer. Blinking her eyes hard, she looked ruefully at the well tapped bottle of Jack Daniels lying on the floor and moaned softly. She was just two days removed from a four month stay in the Andes Mountains and had celebrated her reception of a twenty thousand dollar check for the results of her intense work a little too enthusiastically.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
"All right. All right," she growled. "Keep your shirt on, damn it." She reached under her pillow and pulled out the Colt .45 automatic she had recently bought to replace her old revolver. Still somewhat groggy, she weaved her way to the door. Without removing the chain she cracked opened the door. Keeping her .45 out of sight she peeked out and saw two men in dark suits, obviously armed, standing there. She cocked her head to one side and looked up the hall. There she saw another man standing by the elevator.
"Miss Covington? Miss Janice Covington?"
"That's my name. Don't wear it out."
"We have to talk to you, Miss Covington. If you'll just let us in..." The man put his hand on the door in an attempt to push his way in.
"Not so fast, pal, " said Janice. "Just who the hell are you anyway?"
Janice saw a hand stick a wallet through the cracked door. After snatching the wallet out his hand she flipped on the light switch. The picture was almost impossible for her tortured eyes to make out and the fine print was practically indiscernible but there was no mistaking the big, bold letters FBI.
"You gonna let us in now, miss?"
"Yeah, sure," said Janice. "Just give me a minute."
She went to the bed and put on the old, tattered robe she'd had since her college days. Before returning to the door she carefully tucked the automatic back under the pillow. She then opened up the door and handed the ID back to the agent.
"So what can I do for you boys?" she asked.
"Miss Covington, there is a plane taking off for Washington in...," he checked his watch, "exactly fifty-two minutes. Our orders are to see that you are on it."
"What is this? Some kind of a gag?" asked Janice.
"Do you see anyone laughing?" the other man shot back.
"Who's your playmate here?" snorted Janice. "J. Edgar Hoover?"
"I'm with the United States Secret Service, ma'am," the man replied, showing his ID. "I'm here to make positive identification on you." He snapped his wallet shut and returned it to his coat pocket. "I must say, Miss Covington," he added, "you are a hard woman to track down."
"Well you guys went through a lot of trouble for nothin'. 'Cause I ain't going anywhere with you," said Janice.
The FBI agent set his jaw and looked at her as if she was Public Enemy Number One. "Miss Covington, one way or another you are going to be on that plane. Now whether you walk on or we carry you on makes no difference to me."
"You know the last time I checked this was still the USA, not Nazi Germany," said Janice heatedly.
"Miss Covington, with all the trouble in the world right now it's sometimes necessary to bend civil liberties just a little, if you know what I mean."
"Okay, okay," she said evenly. She could see the man was deadly serious. She slowly backed away and said, "Let's not get excited."
"We knew you'd see it our way," said the G-man with a politeness that was unsettling.
"Just let me get dressed."
"We're not stopping you," said the T-man.
"Is this how you guys get your jollies or something?" smirked Janice.
"Sorry, ma'am, we can't take any chances. We were told you could be ahh, 'resourceful', shall we say?" He walked to the door and whistled softly to the man by the elevator. When his cohort entered the room the G-man picked up the blanket off the bed and handed one corner to him. They then stretched it out to form a screen, their faces turned to the door of the room.
Janice grinned slyly and said, "Okay, fellas. I get it."
Having to dress in the same room with three armed men did not disturb Janice Covington. In fact, not much of anything fazed her anymore. She had, for the most part, seen it all and done it all. As the rogue, or black sheep if you will, of the archaeological world she never played by anybody's rules. She couldn't afford to. And anything like this that added to her reputation as a maverick only made her stand out more in a field almost completely dominated by men. This attitude had served her well in the past few years for during that time she had consistently beaten those jelly-bellied pansies with their pressed suits and their clean pith helmets to some of the most startling finds of the day. The Star of Turkey, the lost city of Pentacholpanec, the Xena scrolls... all were found by the gritty daughter of Harry Covington after all the other "experts" had given up hope.
No, it wouldn't do her any reputation any harm to be practically abducted by government agents and hauled off to Washington. But for what purpose? she wondered as she buttoned up her shirt. She looked at the startled faces of the three men and allowed herself a small grin of satisfaction. The bastards expected me to wear a dress, she thought. Well screw them. Janice Covington doesn't wear a dress for anybody. She tucked in her shirt and stepped out from behind the blanket. With an impish grin she made a big show of zipping up her khaki pants. She noted with pleasure the envy in the men's eyes when she donned the blue jacket with the famous NY logo on it. The rare article had been given to her by an old college classmate who now worked for the Yanks.
"Okay, crimebusters," she said snidely. "Lead on."
For some reason her thoughts turned to Mel. Something like this would scare her shitless, thought Janice. It would be safe to bet a dollar to a doughnut that Melinda Pappas would not have gotten dressed in front of any G-men, or T-men, or X-men for that matter.
"You're really going out dressed like that?" asked the Secret Service man. God, he thought, what will the Boss think?
"Sorry, boys," sniffed Janice. "I'm not the pearls and high heels type."
The man shrugged and picked up the telephone. "Give me room 216," he said. "Hello, Bob? We're ready."
Suddenly a thought struck Janice. "Hey, what about the room? And my things?"
"The Bureau will take care of the room," the G-man assured her. "And your effects will be forwarded to you in Washington."
Janice shrugged and said, "Good enough." She then nodded toward the bed and added, "Be sure you don't forget my 'friend' under the pillow."
The Secret Service man lifted up the pillow and whistled softly. "Nice piece. You know how to use it?"
"Let's just say there's a couple of creeps out there who thought they could muscle in on me walkin' around now with enough lead still in 'em they don't need a radio to pick up Little Orphan Annie," said the archaeologist.
Ninety minutes later Janice Covington was bundled up in the drafty hold of a southbound C-47 trying desperately to keep from freezing to death. Her light Yankees jacket was of little help at nine thousand feet on a cold November night. With her teeth chattering and her uncontrollable shivering she was almost unable to express her displeasure about the flying accommodations to the crusty sergeant eyeing her from the other side of the plane--almost but not quite.
"God d-damn!" she blurted out. The sons of bitches could have told me it was a military plane, she raged silently.
The sergeant rolled his wad of tobacco over his tongue and into his other cheek and spit a large brown glob on the floor of the plane. "What's the matter, honey?" he smirked. "Ya ain't cold, are ya?"
Fucking smart ass, thought Janice. She looked enviously at his thick sheepskin lined leather jacket and gloves. "You wouldn't happen to have some more of those lying around here somewhere would you?"
The sergeant grinned and spit again, this time much closer to her feet. "Nope."
"Look sergeant," said Janice, "just what the hell's eatin' you anyway?"
"What's eatin' me is I hadda get out of my warm bunk in the middle of the night just to haul some dame's ass down to Washington," rasped the sergeant.
"If you think it was my idea to be up here in this ice box with wings in the dead of night you're nuts, Buster," Janice shot back.
"Yeah, well dames don't belong on no Army Air Corps plane," said the sergeant.
"Up yours," snarled Janice.
"What's going on back here?"
Janice and her antagonist were joined by a tall young man wearing the single silver bar of a first lieutenant.
"Ma'am, what seems to be the trouble?"
"Trouble? I'll tell you what the trouble is!" shouted Janice, her anger rising with every word. "I'm back here freezing my bazooms off and this palooka wants to give me a lecture on army decorum!"
With a puzzled look on his face the lieutenant turned to the sergeant. "Sergeant?"
"Where's the flight suit we brought for this woman?"
"Well ah, sir, ya see...," the sergeant sheepishly picked up the small tarpaulin he had been sitting on and revealed the heavy flight jacket and pants lying underneath.
For Janice this was too much. "Why you son of a bitch!" She lowered her head and launched herself at the sergeant. She wrapped both arms around the man and drove him backward until he slammed into the side of the plane. Before the stunned sergeant or his lieutenant could react Janice stepped back and punched him dead in the nose. She drew back to hit him again but before she could deliver the goods the lieutenant caught her arm.
"Ma'am. Ma'am! Don't." As the lieutenant became more excited his voice went right up the scale.
"The bastard was holding out on me all the time!" snarled Janice. "Let go of my arm!"
"Calm down, ma'am," the lieutenant pleaded. "I think he's had enough."
By now the sergeant had his handkerchief out and was holding it tightly under his nostrils. "You cwazy dame," he honked. "You bwoke my doze!"
"Yeah? Well serves you right, asshole," said Janice.
"Uh, sergeant, I think you'd better come up front with us," said the lieutenant with some amusement. "We'd better see if we can get that bleedin' stopped."
The lieutenant took the sergeant by the arm and led him forward. As he passed Janice the sergeant's pride, which was hurting him much worse than his nose, would not let him depart without comment. "Cwazy dame," he muttered weakly.
But she was no longer paying attention to her victim. Already she had the flight jacket on, snugly zipped up, and was in the process of pulling on the flight pants.
The early morning sky had broken clear over Washington and there was a crisp breeze in the air. The lieutenant pushed open the door of the plane and stuck his head out. Normally this was the sergeant's job but he had refused to get anywhere near the "cwazy dame" again.
"Ma'am looks like you're expected."
Janice bent down and peeked out from the lieutenant's outstretched arm. She saw the plane had taxied to a remote spot on the airfield and parked with the door facing away from the control tower. The propellers on the twin-engined plane had not even stopped turning yet and already a car was pulling up next to them.
What is all this? Janice wondered.
She noted there were two men in the car and, for all she knew, they could have been clones of the ones in New York. The car had not come to a complete stop before the man on the passenger side had his door open. Without bothering to shut his door the man got out the car and jogged to the plane.
"We're here to pick up Janice Covington," the man said.
The young lieutenant squinted suspiciously at them. "Ya'll got some ID?" he asked.
"Look, Lieutenant, ah... what's your name?"
"Moore. Lieutenant Chris Moore, USAAF."
"Look, Moore, we don't have time to fuck around here. Miss Covington is due at the White House in forty-five minutes and if she's not there then your ass will be the one that will have to explain to General Marshall why she was late."
At the mention of the White House and the army chief of staff the lieutenant decided this was way over his head. "Sorry theah, padnah," said Moore, his Texas twang involuntarily kicking in. "Jes' checkin', that's all." He turned to Janice and said, "Ma'am, ah reckon you're to go with these fellers."
Janice stepped to the door of the plane and crouched down to make her leap to the ground. She then turned to the amicable young man and, in the first real display of warmth seen by Lieutenant Moore, said, "Thanks, Lieutenant. Take care of yourself." She then smiled and added, "Ya heyah?"
The lieutenant smiled and nodded but she was already gone.
During the entire ride from the airfield into downtown Washington not one word was spoken by anyone. Janice had been simply waved into the back seat of the big Packard and her two escorts had taken their stations up front. All through the trip the driver steered the big sedan with both hands firmly on the wheel and not once did he take his eyes off the road. As they made their way through the city she at first thought it odd that the streets would be so empty at this hour but then the realization came to her--this was Sunday. Most government offices were locked up tighter than a jug and even those that were not were manned by skeleton crews of junior staffers.
She peered through the steamy window and again wondered what possible reason could make the government want to rouse a nobody like her out of bed and pack her off to Washington D.C. in the middle of the night. She remembered what the man had said at the airfield. The White House? God, she thought, you don't suppose...? Nah, Janice that's crazy. But still, why else would she be taken there? And then there was the matter of General Marshall. What did the army chief of staff have to do with all this?
Janice Covington did not have to keep up with current events much. She didn't have to. She had seen them first hand often enough. Besides what American didn't know about how Hitler had overrun Europe and was at this very moment pounding on the gates of Moscow? Unlike most of her countrymen at this time, she did not believe the war in Europe was none of America's business. She felt cultural ties with Britain were much too strong for the United States to stand idly by let her fall. In fact Janice was a little surprised her nation was not at war already. At any rate she deemed American participation in the conflict inevitable. It was only a matter of when.
The Packard pulled to a stop and the driver exchanged a couple of terse sentences with a uniformed guard. As they drove past she wiped the steam on the window off with the sleeve of her jacket to get a look at the guard. He was wearing a long overcoat and she really could not tell whether the man was military or some other kind of security person.
A minute later the car came to a stop for the final time and the man on the passenger side popped out and opened the door for her. "Miss Covington? Follow me." Janice sensed this was an order, not a request.
Like most Americans of her day she had very little knowledge of the White House. She knew what it looked like, of course--well the front of it anyway for that was what the newsreels and newspaper photographs always showed. Now seeing it in person for the first time, she was somewhat surprised. She had thought it would be bigger. Janice would have liked to just stand there for a moment to take it all in but she was quickly hustled through a side door and up a flight of stairs to the second floor. There she was deposited into a plain hardback chair and told to wait. Her two escorts then disappeared and she was left alone except for yet another man in a conservative suit at the far end of the hall. Janice correctly guessed his job was to make sure she stayed put.
She looked up at the various paintings on the wall and for a time tried to guess who they might be. However she quickly tired of this. She then stuck her hand into her jacket pocket and extracted a pack of Beeman's chewing gum. After unwrapping a stick she remembered where she was, thought better of it, and returned it to her pocket.
Fifteen, twenty, twenty-five minutes elapsed and by now she was ready to explode. Janice Covington hated to wait. Her impatience on a dig was legendary. She had a reputation as a boss who wanted things done yesterday. Now added to her discomfort was the fact that her stomach was beginning to protest being neglected.
Grrrrrrrrrr.... Her growling stomach could be plainly heard in the quiet room. Boy, what I wouldn't give for a stack of pancakes right now, she thought.
Finally, after what she was sure was a wait of a least three of four hours (in reality fifty-six minutes) she saw a trim, distinguished-looking man wearing what looked to be an army uniform striding purposefully toward her.
This is it, Kid, she thought, her anxiety returning.
As he neared Janice noted the man was about fifty-five or sixty years of age and carried himself with the bearing of someone who was used to being in charge. The four stars on his shoulders were merely confirmation of her assessment.
"I'm General Marshall."
Having seen his picture in the newspapers many times she knew who he was. "I know," she replied quietly.
She wasn't the only one. Everyone in Washington knew who George Catlett Marshall was. As the most respected man in the armed forces he had an unbroken forty year reputation as a man who could get things done. From his graduation from the Virginia Military Institute in 1901, through his tenure as one of "Black Jack" Pershing's most trusted aides in The Great War, to his now-famous "Benning Revolution" in the early 1930's, George Marshall's career had been one of exemplary, if relatively anonymous, service.
That had all changed in 1938 when he was summoned to Washington to head the War Plans Division of the Army General Staff. This brought him in close contact for the first time with Franklin Roosevelt. Determined to keep his independence from the charismatic Roosevelt, Marshall appalled his fellow officers by refusing to allow the President to call him "George." He also refused all invitations to White House parties or weekends at Hyde Park, he even refused to laugh at the president's jokes!
But Roosevelt knew a gifted man when he saw one. Bypassing very many officers who were senior to him, Roosevelt in 1939 reached down and plucked out George C. Marshall to be the next Army Chief of Staff, the army's highest position. In one of those ironies history is so fond of, George Marshall was sworn in on September 1, 1939-- the same day Hitler's Wehrmacht blitzkrieged into Poland thus starting World War II. Since that day Marshall had spent every waking moment desperately trying to prepare an isolationist America for its inevitable participation in the war.
During his many appearances before Congress at this time he gained a reputation as a man of unparalleled integrity. Democrats and Republicans alike were very impressed by this austere, aloof, but always truthful man from Pennsylvania. It had been Marshall's candid testimony as the army's sole witness during hearings to extend the Selective Service Act that had been credited with saving the force that he had so painstakingly built up through the 1940 peacetime draft.
With China ravaged, France beaten, England badly pressed, and the Soviet Union hanging on by a fingernail it had been one piece of bad news after another for George Marshall. Now with negotiations with the Japanese on the verge of collapse he knew the situation was about as bad as it could get.
But none of this constant weight on the man who would one day be known as the "architect of victory" was evident as he shook hands with the tough-looking young woman. "I'm sorry you had to wait so long," he told her.
"That's okay, I didn't mind," lied Janice.
"Would you follow me please?" Marshall led her down the hall to an open room. Inside were two men flanking a man sitting behind a desk and looking out the window. The seated man's profile was unmistakable.
Oh my God! thought Janice. It's him.
General Marshall rapped lightly on the door to announce their presence. "Mr. President, Miss Covington is here."
"Ahh splendid, splendid!" boomed the profile's voice. "Show her in, General."
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States gave a subtle wave to the two aides and they at once withdrew. As they passed by Janice one of them shot an annoyed glance at her. Marshall waited for the men to pass by and then stepped into the room but poor Janice's motor skills seemed to have deserted her. Her jaw dropped, her legs felt like lead, and she found herself unable to keep her hands from shaking.
Roosevelt wheeled himself out from behind the desk and rolled up to the stunned archaeologist. "Miss Covington," he asked, extending his hand, "may I call you Janice?"
Janice weakly took his hand and with a Herculean effort managed to gulp, "Of course, sir."
"Good, good," he boomed. "I find it helps matters considerably if I can talk to people on a first name basis." He looked at her with a devilish smile and added, "I'm sorry if we have caused you any inconvenience. Won't you sit down?"
For one panic-stricken moment Janice was ready to plop right down on the floor and sit Indian-style but General Marshall, mercifully reading the terror in her eyes, discreetly nudged a chair her way.
"Uhh, thank you, Mister President," she stammered, taking the chair.
Roosevelt tilted his head toward General Marshall. "You know, the General there, he won't let me call him 'George,'" he said with a sly smile. "Can you imagine that? The President of the United States can't call his Army Chief of Staff by his first name! Now what do you think about that, Janice?"
Poor Janice didn't know what to think. She looked expectantly at Marshall and saw his face was as blank as butcher paper.
"Mister President," said Marshall evenly, "I don't believe my ability to serve you would be in any way enhanced by familiarity. Besides, as you well know, I serve at your discretion and if at any time..."
Roosevelt threw back his head and laughed heartily. "General, you know well enough that day will never come." He leaned over and, in a conspiratorial tone, whispered to Janice, "He knows I can't do without him. Why I dare say I couldn't sleep at night if he wasn't here." This last sentence would be, in the future, uttered many, many more times by Roosevelt.
Janice smiled weakly and nodded. She then gulped hard and said, "Mister President, if it's not too bold of me, may I ask why I'm here, sir?"
The merry smile faded and in its stead appeared a much more somber countenance. "We'll get to that in a moment. But first..." He then turned to Marshall. "...General," he said, "if you would be so kind."
Marshall put on his glasses and opened up the manila folder he had brought with him. "Miss Covington, you once spent some time in Borneo, did you not?"
"Yeah," said Janice. She closed her eyes in thought and added, "It was in late '37, early '38. I was an assistant to Professor Jones then."
"So you are familiar with the island?" Marshall asked.
"Yeah, I suppose so," replied Janice. "The place has everything from impenetrable jungle to mountains to elevated plains."
Roosevelt looked her squarely in the eye and asked "What do you know about the Rings of Bugang?"
For a moment Janice sat there looking at him in stunned silence. The legend of the Rings of Bugang was known only to a very select few in the entire world. "It's a very old legend," said Janice cautiously.
"Could you tell us about it?" asked Roosevelt.
"Well it's a story that takes almost an hour to relate but if you like I can give you a condensed version," said Janice.
"Please do," said Roosevelt.
"The actual legend deals with a warrior named Monsopiad and was originally told by Bianti, a Bobohizan high priestess." said Janice. "He was born and raised in a village called Kuai where his grandfather was chieftain. It is said that when his mother was pregnant with Monsopiad the sacred bird Bugang made its nest on the rooftop of their house to lay its eggs. When the time came for Monsopiad to be born, so too, was it time for the eggs to hatch. Monsopiad's father, Dunggou, looked upon the coincidence as a good omen. So whenever the baby Monsopiad was given his bath, Dunggou brought down the baby birds to bathe with him. He did this until the birds were finally big enough to fly and leave the nest. The sacred bird Bugang was so grateful to Dunggou for his hospitality that if flew to the sea and returned with a coral necklace featuring four rings of pure gold. It was said that the rings represented the power of the four winds and whomever possessed it would be invincible in battle. When Dunggou explained to Bugang that he was too old to be a warrior anymore the bird told him the necklace was for the boy and was to be placed around his neck when he reached fifteen years of age.
Kuai was a small village and did not have enough warriors to protect it so very often during Monsopiad's childhood his village was subject to attack and plunder by robbers. During these attacks the villagers would have no choice but to flee to the nearby jungle and hide until it was safe to return to their homes. During these attacks Monsopiad would watch from his hiding place, clench his fists in rage, and bite his lip so hard the blood would freely flow.
As the young Monsopiad grew he took to his warrior training naturally and eventually became a skilled fighter, learning to handle every weapon with ease. When he turned fifteen his father placed the necklace on him and told him its purpose. Then and there Monsopiad vowed he would someday rid his village of its tormentors once and for all.
One day while Monsopiad was working in his father's rice field a group of women came to him and began to berate him for working so hard, saying it was a waste of time and effort as most of the fruits of his labor would be enjoyed by the robbers who always struck shortly after harvest. The women also ridiculed the men of their village, calling them weaklings for not being able to defend their village effectively.
Monsopiad, angered by such mockery, vowed to start looking for the robbers the very next day and, once found, kill them. He told the women he would cut off the head of the robber leader and bring it back to his village as a trophy to be hung from the roof of his house. He told them he would take three youths with him to bear witness to his deed. The youths would then return to Kuai ahead of him to announce his success and herald his impending arrival by blowing on a bamboo trumpet. Monsopiad said that in response, the women must put on their best costumes, bear bamboo trays and give him a grand warrior's welcome. If they did not he would kill them all. The women promised that, if Monsopiad succeeded, they would do as he wished.
Early the next morning Monsopiad set out with the three youths in search of the robbers who had been victimizing his village. He finally found them five weeks later and a bloody fight ensued. As he promised, Monsopiad fought the leader of the robbers and beheaded him. Seeing their leader dead, the remaining robbers fled for their lives. The three youths who had been watching the battle ran back to Kuai as fast as they could. When the people of the village heard the bamboo trumpet they were at first confused and frightened for they had not expected Monsopiad to be successful in his quest.
The women who had mocked him were terrified for they had never before welcomed a warrior home and remembered Monsopiad's threat to kill them if they did not fulfill their promise. Fortunately for them, a priestess knew what to do and gave them instructions. The women, bearing bamboo trays and led in by the priestess, formed a procession and the entire village joined in. They began singing songs of victory as soon as Monsopiad entered the village. The sight so inspired Monsopiad that he vowed to wipe out all the enemies of his village.
As the years passed Monsopiad continued relentlessly with his self-imposed mission and in time, no robber or evil warrior dared come near Kuai. Through all this time the necklace he wore always gave him strength and protected him. He had by then, however, become an obsessed man who resorted to provoking other men into fighting him just so he would have an excuse to kill and behead them. Of course this made the other villagers, including Monsopiad's close friends and the other warriors, wary and extremely afraid of him.
Finally a group of brave warriors got together and decided that despite his heroic deeds, Monsopiad's uncontrollable desire to kill had made him a grave threat to the village and therefore must die. Late one evening, while Monsopiad was resting in his hut, the warriors made their move. Monsopiad put up a fierce fight but he discovered he no longer had the strength he once had. Too late he realized that by abusing the special power bestowed on him by the sacred bird, he had gradually become a common man. Monsopiad lost his life that day but the villagers still held him dearly in their hearts for he was, after all, still the man that had vanquished all their enemies.
He had, in all, collected the heads of forty-two powerful warriors, a feat which no other man could equal. The villagers forgave Monsopiad for his mistakes and in memory of his good deeds erected a monument in his honor and renamed their village after him.
It was said that Bugang was so saddened by Monsopiad's downfall that she returned the necklace with the four rings to the sea and vowed never to help man again."
Roosevelt leaned back in his chair and adjusted his pince-nez glasses. "You told that marvelously," said Roosevelt. "Have you ever considered writing?"
"Not really, sir," said Janice. In truth early in her career during one of her longer jobless stints she had in fact thought about chucking archaeology and trying her hand at writing. She knew he had something of a gift for it.
Of course FDR already knew all about this legend, having been briefed twice on the subject by a noted archaeologist from Georgetown. What he had really wanted to know was whether this woman with the rowdy reputation was as knowledgeable as he had been led to believe. It was obvious to him now that she was. However there was the matter of her trustworthiness. The woman had a reputation for being unscrupulous. After closely studying her background several of his advisors had cautioned him against using her. But Franklin D. Roosevelt had wanted to see for himself. He had not been elected President of the United States three times because he didn't know people. Great or small, friend of foe, FDR had a gift for sizing people up quickly.
Now, after studying the young woman sitting nervously a few feet from him, he had decided that Janice Covington, like millions of others Americans, had simply been molded by the trials of the Great Depression. He looked at the hard, but youthful, face and saw eyes that should have belonged to someone much older. During his travels across the country he had seen those eyes many times. It was plain the woman had experienced a lot in her short life and very much of it had not been pleasant.
Her credentials confirmed, it now fell to Roosevelt to decide if she could be trusted on this matter. Well, he thought, let's find out. "Janice?"
"Can I trust you? Let me rephrase that. Can America trust you? If circumstances arose where your services were needed could you be counted on to come to the aid of our nation? You need not answer as a citizen to the President," said Roosevelt, "but simply as one American to another."
Janice pressed her lips together tightly and looked down at her feet. "Mr. President," she began, "I won't try to soft-soap you. I'm not a weepy-eyed patriot. Everything I have achieved in life I had to fight and scratch and claw for. America, or nobody else for that matter, ever went out of their way to help me. When I was in college I had to take every dirty job I could find just to earn enough money to stay in school. I sold tickets at the local movie house, I waited on tables at a half-dozen greasy spoons, I scrubbed floors at the hospital for twenty-five cents an hour. I used to sometimes go to class so tired I couldn't even take notes. I'd just sit there and stare like zombie. I was smarter than any of those rich, bubble headed sorority girls in my classes but I had to settle for B's and C's because I was just too tired from working all the time to study as much as wanted to."
She smiled ruefully and added, "You know, all the time I was in school I had one coat and two pairs of shoes. And then when I graduated do you think I had it any better?" She snorted and answered her own question. "Not a chance. It took me a year of knocking on doors and practically begging before someone finally decided to take a chance on me--for much less money of course. Why? Because I was a woman and every day I had to prove myself to the other archaeologists on the site."
It was here she paused before continuing. "I know America is a great country, sir, but that still doesn't mean that unfairness and intolerance should be condoned. There are a whole lot of people that are smart or gifted in some way that don't get much of a fair shake in this country. And that's all they're asking for, Mr. President, a chance."
"I understand how you feel," said Roosevelt. "But that still doesn't answer my question. Can America depend on you?"
"I know what they say about me," said Janice, barely hiding her bitterness. "I'm a money-grubber, I'd stab my own grandmother in the back if it was to my advantage. I'm sure your people told you all about that didn't they, sir?"
Roosevelt nodded his reply.
"Mister President, all I can say is I may not be anybody's ideal of a model American citizen but I am a loyal one."
Roosevelt leaned over and patted Janice on the knee. "Child, that's all I wanted to know." He nodded to Marshall and said, "Please continue, General."
"About a month ago Navy intelligence began receiving reports from their man stationed on Borneo that several Japanese agents had arrived there. These reports indicated the Japanese were offering twenty thousand dollars in gold to anyone who could produce the Rings of Bugang."
"But why?" asked Janice, furrowing her brow. "I mean, we're not sure they even exist."
"They exist," said Marshall, matter-of-factly. "The Navy's man has them. At least we think he has them."
"What do you mean?"
"He was supposed to have taken a supply boat to Singapore but his contact there reported he never got off the ship," said Marshal. "The last thing ONI heard from him was a report that he had the rings. That was ten days ago."
"Why don't you send someone down there to look for him?" Janice asked.
"We are," said Roosevelt. "You!"
"Mee? But I don't know anything about..."
Roosevelt cut short her protest with a dismissive wave of the hand. "Oh come now, Janice," he said. "Don't be modest. We know all about your ah, adventures, shall we say? We feel you're exactly the right person for the job; the perfect combination of an extremely knowledgeable archaeologist and someone more than capable of looking out for their self."
"What we want you to do, Miss Covington, is go there and find our man, verify the authenticity of the rings, and help our man get out," said Marshall.
"I see," said Janice. "Let me ask you something. Why didn't you have somebody either with this guy or already down there to tell him if the rings were genuine or not?"
"We did. Unfortunately he died under mysterious circumstances before he could do that. We think this forced our man to gamble that the rings he had located were, in fact, the real ones," said Marshall.
"Mysterious circumstances huh?" Janice grinned wryly. "I'll bet."
A little voice in the back of Janice's head suddenly began to sound out a warning. "Things are happening way too fast here, Kid. Watch your step."
"Do you think you could do that?" asked Roosevelt.
"Well obviously, I can't tell you if they're the real thing or not," replied Janice. "After all, no one has seen them. I should be able to tell if the workmanship is of the correct time period, though."
"That's all we are asking," said Marshall.
"May I ask what all the fuss over a bit of gold and some coral is?" asked Janice.
"I'm afraid we can't tell you that as this point in time," replied Marshall. "Suffice it to say we believe that if the Japanese are willing to pay that much out of their dwindling gold reserve for this item then it must be something they deem advantageous to possess. Therefore if follows if they want it, it is in our best interests to make sure they do not obtain it."
"Janice, I can't order you to go, not even the president can do that," said Roosevelt. "But I can and I am asking you if you would do it as a personal favor to me." Wiley politician that he was, Roosevelt already knew the answer. What was she going to say, no?
Janice took a deep breath and said, "Okay, I'll do it."
Marshall immediately handed her a sheet of paper. Janice glanced at it and saw it was an itinerary and, at the bottom, an address--written in longhand.
"Please memorize this and then destroy it," said Marshall.
Janice looked again at the paper and read the names...Pearl Harbor...Guam...Clark Field. Military transport all the way, thought Janice glumly. That's just ducky.
As if reading her mind Marshall said, "Of course there are more commercial means of reaching the island but they are sporadic and unreliable at best. We need you down there as quickly as possible."
Janet merely nodded. At this point one of the aides rapped lightly on the door.
"Sir, it's time."
"Thank you, Robert," said Roosevelt. He looked at Janice and smiled jovially, "It's time for my swim."
She saw Marshall take off his glasses and close the folder and took this as her cue to rise. She knew it was now or never. She had to know.
"Why me? And why did you personally ask me? I mean you must have dozens of guys that could have handled this for you, right?"
Roosevelt looked up at her from his wheelchair and said, "Young lady, now it's my turn not to soft soap you. As you probably know from the news we are at the present time conducting negotiations with the Japanese. What's not generally known is those negotiations are going very badly. So badly in fact that we feel there is a distinct possibility we could be at war by New Year's. The reason I personally asked you to go is because if war does break out we expect Borneo to be one of the first places the Japanese hit. And it goes without saying that it could very well be you would end up on your own down there." He paused and added, "That's why we chose you. You seem to have a resilience, a never-say-die quality about you. You see, our man is being watched very closely over there and if he is to get out of the country with those rings he is going to need the help of someone that knows their business. That's you, my dear. And times being what they are, I didn't think it was appropriate to have anyone but me ask a private citizen to place their self in such a potentially dangerous position." He then looked at her puckishly and added, "Besides, Eleanor is always after me to give the women of this country more responsibility."
"I understand, Mister President," said Janice quietly.
Roosevelt rolled his chair to the door and looked back. "Oh by the way, Janice, you were wrong when you said you never got a thing from America."
"Sir?" Janice asked quizzically.
With a kindly smile the great man said, "Opportunity, Janice. You got an opportunity. Do you realize how many peoples there are in the world that wish for that with all their hearts every day?" The aide took control of Roosevelt's chair and he was gone.
"It will take some time to firm up transportation," said Marshall. "In the meantime arrangements have been made for you to stay at a hotel downtown. Your things should reach you there. When we are ready to move we'll call you."
"I'm sure you already know this but I have a..." Janice almost said 'friend,' "...colleague who assists me ..."
She was correct, Marshall did know. In fact he knew everything about Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas because the FBI had been conducting an intense investigation of them for the past two weeks. "If you feel Miss Pappas will be useful feel free to take her along," he told her. "But I advise you to fully explain the situation to her first."
"I will," Janice promised.
As if by magic the two men that had brought her there now suddenly reappeared.
"Good bye, Miss Covington, and good luck," said Marshall, extending his hand.
"Thanks," mumbled Janice. Only now was the enormity of it all sinking in. Jesus, she thought, I met the President of the United States!
Janice drained the last of the scotch in her glass and reached for the telephone. It was time. "Hello, operator? Could you put me through to Columbia, South Carolina please? I want to speak to a Miss Melinda Pappas. Yes, that's right, Pappas, P-a-p-p-a-s. The number is CYpress-6199. Yes, I'll wait."
It was now 7:30 on the east coast. Janice knew that Melinda...Mel would be home by now. Despite her southern charm and quiet beauty, Mel had not proved to be one of those Southern belles that had to fight off beaux. Stupid idiots! thought Janice as she waited for her connection.
Finally on the other end, that unmistakable drawl, "Hello-oo?"
"Janice, is that you?"
"Yeah, Kid, it's me. Listen up, I need you to come up to Washington right away, okay?"
"Yuh mean Washington D.C.?"
"No, Mel, I mean Washington, Indiana. Of course I mean D.C."
"But I thought you were goin' to New York," said Mel.
"I did but, ah, something came up," said Janice.
"Is it another job?" asked Mel excitedly. "Can I go?"
"Can't say over the phone," said Janice. "But I do need to talk to you."
"But Janice...I can't..."
Janice read the sense of urgency in her friend's voice. "All right, Mel, what is it?"
"Way-ul, you see I sorta promised Momma I'd take her to the movies to see "Suspicion" this evenin' at the Bijou theater. See, she's a big fan of Cary Grant and, to tell you the truth, so am I and..."
Janice knew it was no use. "Okay, okay," she sighed. "Take your mom to the movies. You can take the overnight to Washington later."
There was a pause on the other end of the line. "Janice?"
"Are you all right?"
480 miles away the archaeologist could not help but smile. Melinda Pappas was nothing if not thoughtful. "Sure, Mel. I'm fine. Just get your can up her pronto. Be sure to pack a bag--and bring your passport."
"Ahhlll be there," Mel assured her.
"Good." Janice gave her the name of her hotel and her room number. "And Mel, don't tell anybody you're comin' up here, you understand? Not even your mom."
"Okay, Janice, if you say so," said Mel. "But golly, you make it sound like we're goin' on a secret mission or somethin.'"
She did it again, thought Janice. How does she do that? "Just be careful okay?" she replied lamely.
"Good night, Janice."
"Good night, Kid."
After replacing its receiver in the cradle Janice Covington continued to stare at the phone for some time. As mightily as she had tried to dislike Mel at first she found it was just not possible. There was no denying she was a ditzy clutz who was forever trying Janice's patience but she was also the embodiment of all that was good in people. She was kind, gentle, smart, compassionate. >From that first day in Macedonia it had been a classic case of opposites attracting. From Janice's perspective the tall, shy, woman should have been all that she had once hated; a flighty young woman from a privileged family. But it wasn't so.
From no less an authority that the spirit of Xena herself Janice had learned the two of them were merely modern manifestations of a bond formed more than three thousand years ago. A bond that had not weakened with the passing centuries. Many times since learning this revelation Janice had wondered how often the two of them had found each other again over the ensuing centuries. There was no doubt Janice felt the bond tugging at her. Though reluctant at first, she had come to care very much for the gentle southerner. Melinda Pappas was the first human being since the death of her father that Janice Covington thought of as more than someone to be used.
She poured herself another scotch and lay down on the bed. I wonder what it would be like to... aww, Janice, that's crazy, she thought. She shook her head as if to clear the fog. "Janice, that's crazy," she repeated, this time aloud. She turned on the radio and the strains of Tommy Dorsey's band poured forth into the room like fine wine. Like every other woman in America under the age of forty she was a Sinatra fan. The music made her turn once again to thoughts of that soft voice, that lovely face, that gentle heart. At last she fell asleep on the bed, still fully clothed, her glass spilling onto the floor. Janice lay there all night dreaming of presidents and cold airplanes, of grim men in dark suits and hard-backed chairs--and she dreamed of Mel. It had been a long day.
The knocking on the door was so soft Janice barely heard it. "Yeah, whaddaya want?"
"Janice? Janice, it's me, Mel."
Janice rolled out of the bed and stood up. "Ohhhh, God." she groaned. The gremlin and his sledgehammer had returned.
She stumbled to the door with her hand on her forehead. It took a few frustrating moments of fumbling with the latch before she was finally able to open the door. And there she was. Janice squinted up at the woman and grinned, "'Bout time."
A product of a tradition rich Southern family, Mel was, as always, immaculately dressed. She wore a dark blue skirt that just covered her knees and a brilliant white blouse buttoned up all the way to the top. Black pumps and a nicely cut blue jacket that matched her skirt completed the conservative, but very pleasing, look. In one hand she clutched a small hand bag and in the other a pair of black gloves. Over one arm was draped her tan overcoat.
Melinda took one look at her groggy friend, put her hand to her mouth, and uttered her favorite expression, "Oh my!"
Janice squinted up at her through the one eye that seemed to be the least clouded. "Wassamatter?" she asked.
"Janice I do declare you look like Sherman's army came through here and marched all over you."
Janice grinned again and said, "Don't worry about it, Mel. I feel a lot worse than I look." She picked up her friend's suitcase and stretched out an arm. "Won't ya'll come in?"
Mel stepped into the room and the first things she saw were the bottle of scotch on the night table and the glass lying still lying on the floor. "Janice!" she gasped softly. "You've been drinkin'."
"Good work, Mister Moto," said Janice playfully. "What tipped you off?"
Mel, however, was not amused. "Janice, you promised me you'd try to take better care of yourself."
The archaeologist could see how deeply concerned her one true friend was. Yes it was true Janice Covington was known to crack the seal on a whiskey bottle every now and then but she never, ever drank when Melinda was around. She didn't need to. Melinda was miffed to be sure but she wasn't about to beat Janice over the head too much over it. After all, only she knew how lonely a person her friend really was.
"I only had a couple," lied Janice.
It was a lame attempt to placate her friend but Mel was not buying any of it. "I'm sure," she answered, a little icily.
God damn it! thought Janice, her famous temper flaring. Why do I take this from her? If it was anybody else...
Melinda tossed her gloves, coat, and hand bag in a heap on the bed and turned to face Janice. "Have yuh had anything tuh eat? I mean like, oh say, in the last couple of days?"
"Yeah," Janice shot back a little defensively. "I had a hamburger and milk shake yesterday evening."
Mel sighed and shook her head. "Janice I swear you worry me. It seems like when you ain't on a dig you try your darndest to wreck yourself."
She reached out with both hands and took Janice by the shoulders. With surprising ease she spun the smaller woman around and pointed her toward the bathroom door. Over the past few months Janice had come to learn just how deceptively strong Mel really was.
"Now you jes' march yourself right in there and take a nice, warm bath an' you'll feel much better. I'll call room service and have 'em bring up something for ya."
"But I don't have anything clean to wear," Janice protested mildly. "My things haven't arrived yet."
"Oh for Pete's sake don't worry. I'll send 'em out and have 'em cleaned," said Mel.
Janice nodded weakly and made her way to the bathroom. She had to admit she did like it when Mel fussed over her like this. It made her feel good to know somebody cared for her. She closed the bathroom door and began to run water into the tub. Next she peeled off her clothes and threw them in a pile by the door. After turning the water off she walked to the door and scooped up her clothing. Deliberately not bothering to cover herself with a towel she opened the door.
"Here ya go," she said, tossing the clothing on the floor. Mel was on the phone with room service so Janice lingered at the door until she was done. "You're never gonna believe who I saw yesterday." Like a teasing school girl she wanted to make sure Mel saw her.
Mel did see her. "Janice!" she scolded gently.
Janice, however, noted Mel was not blushing as she had expected her to do. She also saw she was taking in every inch of her.
Melinda quickly strode to the door and gently tried to push it shut. "You git in there and take your bath."
"But Mel I saw--"
"Whomever it was, it can wait."
Thirty blissful minutes later Janice finally summoned up enough resolve to pick herself up out of the tub. Mel had been right. She did feel better. She towelled off and combed back her hair. Wiping away the steam from the mirror she stepped back and eyed herself. "Not bad," she allowed admiringly. "Not bad at all."
It wasn't very often that Janice Covington allowed herself to be a woman. It was her belief that in her line of work being female was a luxury she just could not afford. She knew that if she exhibited any weakness at all the barracuda rivals of hers would eat her alive. She was still staring at herself when she heard a soft rap on the door.
"Yeah." She wrapped the bath towel around her and opened the door.
"Here, put this on." said Mel, handing her a white bath robe.
Janice took the robe and in a rare moment of tenderness touched Mel on the forearm. "Thanks, Mel."
Slightly taken aback, Melinda did blush this time and Janice felt a little ashamed for her previous clumsy attempt at exhibitionism. She slipped the robe on and found it way too big for her. In fact it was touching the floor. In vain she tried to reach around behind her and take up the robe's belt.
Seeing her friend's difficulty, Mel quickly came to her rescue. "Here, let me help." She ran both arms around Janice and took up the ends of the belt. "I've been meanin' to get a new one," she said apologetically. "The belt loops on this ol' thing are broken."
Mel was so close Janice could smell her and even without perfume on she smelled... sweet. Mel was much taller than Janice and her breasts were now sooo invitingly close to her. As they came closer Janice was certain she was not the only one that felt stirrings within her. The look on Mel's face was like none Janice had ever seen before.
Melinda looked down at the woman with her still-wet hair combed straight back and was struck by just how young she really was. She knew they were roughly the same age but somehow she had always thought of Janice as someone...older. Over the past months they had spent quite a lot of time together and by now both of them were fully aware there was something special between them. But that "something" was just like a wild stallion yearning to be free but was cruelly pent up inside a strong fence. No matter how desperately the horse might try to knock the fence down it was just too strong. The fence that barred the union of Mel and Janice's hearts was a particularly cruel one for both of them had supplied materials to build it with. Mel's shyness and timidity made for stout fence posts and Janice's stubborn refusal to allow anyone to get close to her after a lifetime of pain provided the railing. But like the stallion their hearts would not give up. They might be stopped today or tomorrow, but someday...
Mel carefully pulled the ends of the belt around and gently tied them off. For once she dropped the veil of Southern propriety and said softly, "You know, Janice, you're quite a lovely woman when you allow yourself to be."
Janice had to admit she found this rarely seen side of Mel exciting. Gone was the timid young clutz and here in its place was a strong, confident woman. Could this be the day? No. It only lasted a moment for Mel suddenly stepped back in an obvious attempt to put space between them and nervously cleared her throat. Before Janice could reply there was a sharp rap at the door.
Mel smiled sheepishly at Janice and said, "I'll get that." She then nodded to the tray room service had brought up and said, "You jes' march yourself over there and eat something, young lady."
Young lady! Janice Covington could never remember being called a lady before--young or otherwise. She made a feeble attempt to curtsy and smiled. "Yes, ma'am."
By the time Mel returned with the heavy suitcase Janice had gotten a very good start on the eggs, bacon, and toast Mel ordered.
"Who brought it?" asked Janice, her mouth full of food.
"Why it was the strangest thing," said Mel. "It was an army officer, a captain I believe."
"Umm," nodded Janice. "Figures."
"Janice, what would the army be doin' with your suitcase?"
By now the spell was broken and Janice Covington was all business again. She poured herself some coffee and walked over to her suitcase. "The bastards better not have forgotten anything," she growled. She placed the suitcase on the bed and, before opening it, took her cup in both hands and sipped the coffee with a loud sluuurp!
A woman of impeccable manners herself, this always drove Mel crazy. "Janice I do declare, do you have to do that?"
"Do what?" asked Janice, her mind elsewhere. She popped open the latches on the case and took a mental inventory of its contents. Of primary concern was the .45 automatic. She halfway expected it to be missing but there it was--neatly tucked under her "protection."
Mel watched warily as Janice picked up the .45 and hefted it in her hand. She released the catch and pulled out the clip. She then pulled the slide back and carefully inspected the breech and firing pin. Government agents or no, when it came to her weapon Janice Covington trusted nobody. Satisfied all was in order she picked up the clip and, with the heel of her hand, bumped it back into the pistol.
"Golly, Janice, is it really necessary to load that thing again?" asked Mel.
"Without its little pals it's just a useless hunk of steel," said Janice matter-of-factly. She tucked the .45 back into the suitcase and returned to her breakfast. For her part Mel was dying to know what this was all about but she knew it would not do any good to press her friend.
A few minutes later Janice finished off her toast and downed the last of her coffee. Leaning back and contentedly patting her stomach, she grinned at her friend and said, "You're not gonna believe what I'm about to tell you."
Ten minutes later Mel had to agree. "You're right, I don't believe you.
"So when do we leave?" asked Mel excitedly.
Janice took a deep breath and spread her hands on her knees. "That's what I want to talk to you about."
Behind her horn-rimmed glasses Mel's eyes narrowed. "What do you meeaan?" she drawled. Janice had found that the more excited Mel got, the more pronounced her drawl became.
"I couldn't tell you over the phone," said Janice, "but I was told this could be a risky business. A very risky business."
"What are you sayin'?"
"I'm saying you really ought to give this some thought before you decide if you want to come or not."
Mel cast her eyes down and, her hurt plainly evident, asked, "If you didn't want me to go why did you ask me to come up here?"
"Damn it, Mel, I never said that," replied Janice. "I'm merely sayin' it could get...rough, ya know?"
"Janice, you know I go where you go, that is unless you don't...want...me...to."
The apprehension on the woman's face was enough to make the Janice want to kick herself in the rear for even bringing it up but she knew the real possibility of danger was something that had to be made clear to Mel. Having fulfilled that obligation, she sagged her shoulders in defeat and shook her head. "Kid, you know that's not true," she said. "After all, we're a team remember?"
Mel happily clasped her hands together and giggled like a school girl. She then got serious and said quietly, "Janice, I promise won't do nothin' to put us in danger. I'll do whatever you say."
"Well you'd better," said Janice, smiling weakly. God, if something happens to her over there I'll never forgive myself, she thought. She then patted the tall woman on the knee and said, "You ought to try to get some rest now. I've got a feelin' it's gonna be a while before we find a bed this soft again."
That afternoon Janice received a call from an army colonel setting in motion a chain of events the two of them would remember for the rest of their lives.
Corporal Mikkelson stuck out his arm and grinned at the two women he had shared crossing six thousand miles of ocean with. "Well, ladies, there it is."
Mel stood up and groped her way to the waist gunner's door and looked out at the huge airfield sprawling below. "Oh, my!" she gasped.
"That's Clark Field," said Mikkelson.
Janice, meanwhile, was content to sit with eyes closed and her back against the side of the B-17. She was disgusted to find that, once again, her stomach had betrayed her. It caused her no end of grief to know that she was so easily susceptible to motion sickness, especially airplanes. Once during a particularly rough flight from Cairo to Damascus in an old Ford Tri-Motor she had thrown up all over the co-pilot's neck hence giving new meaning to her nickname, "Mad Dog." Her flight from New York to Washington had not really counted because she had been too hung over to care. Now she found herself wishing she had something to knock her out.
The big Flying Fortress banked to the right and slowly began to make its descent. The plane was the last of a flight of six to touch down at the big airfield and its slow taxi to its designated spot on the field was the culmination of an odyssey for the two women that had begun three days before and a half a world away.
Continued - Part 2