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Portals of Hell [MultiFormat]
eBook by Robert Vaughan

eBook Category: Alternate History
eBook Description: This fifth volume of Robert Vaughan's American Chronicles follows America's tumultuous and surprising journey through the 1940's, as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thrusts the nation into the Second World War. Hitler's army ravages Europe, and an explosion of the first nuclear warhead in Los Alamos plunges the world into the danger of the nuclear age. Beautiful journalist Shaylin McKay risks her life reporting from the battle front, only to find she has fallen in love with a soldier in combat. Veteran pilot Jimmy Blake performs daring air raids deep into German-occupied territory, repeatedly fighting the odds for the sake of his country. African-American fighter pilot Travis Jackson's skills disturb the color division of the military, his outstanding bravery proving that good pilots come in every color.

eBook Publisher: E-Reads, Published: 1993
Fictionwise Release Date: January 2002


14 Reader Ratings:
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CHAPTER ONE

JUNE 3, 1940, SAIGON, FRENCH INDOCHINA

When the port engine on the twin-engine Grumman flying boat exploded, a jagged piece of metal smashed through the left side window, then out the windshield. Something -- either the piece of metal or a shard of glass -- slashed a deep cut in Jimmy Blake's forehead, and blood started streaming down his face. The fire that followed immediately lit up the inside of the cockpit with a wavering orange glow.

"Shit!" Jimmy shouted.

He looked out the shattered left window and saw flames shooting out the front of the engine and curling back around the nacelle. Oily, black smoke billowed out behind the fire, already so heavy that the wingtip was obscured. Jimmy put the airplane into a severe right crab so that the windstream would blow the fire on the left wing away from the cabin. He also shut off the fuel and feathered the still-spinning propeller. The propeller wobbled to a halt, then sagged slightly downward as the crankshaft began to melt and warp under the intense heat.

"Are we going to crash?" the young Japanese woman seated beside him asked. Although her voice was calm, her hand was shaking as she put a handkerchief to the cut on Jimmy's forehead and held it there.

"Not, by God, if I can help it," Jimmy replied, his blue-gray eyes narrowing resolutely. "I'm only thirty years old; I'm not prepared to die just yet." He hit the red fire extinguisher button for the number-one engine, and a thick white foam began oozing out from the front of the engine. Within seconds the foam did its job, and the fire subsided. "Yeah!" Jimmy shouted, grinning. "Yeah, I got it! I put the son of a bitch out!"

By the time Jimmy corrected the crabbing angle and leveled off his rapidly descending airplane, he was no more than twenty-five feet above the Saigon River, a very busy trade thoroughfare whose surface was dotted with scores of ships, barges, and boats of every size and description. Jimmy knew that hundreds, if not thousands, of people would be on those vessels or standing alongside the river, watching the crippled plane come down. Some might even be hoping to see a crash, but he had no intention of providing them with that show.

He lowered the flaps and hauled the blunt, boat-shaped nose of the Grumman up, slowing it down so that it was hovering just on the point of a stall. Nevertheless, the flying boat still hit the river very hard and sprayed up sheets of water onto the windshield, momentarily obscuring his vision. All the while the young woman held the handkerchief to Jimmy's face, helping somewhat to stem the flow of blood. When the water fell away a second later, the airplane was speeding across the surface of the river, headed for an unwanted rendezvous with a big wooden boat that glared back through the large red eyes painted on its bow. The occupants of the boat -- an old man, an old woman, and a young child -- unable to do anything to prevent the impending collision, stood on the deck, transfixed by fear, watching the airplane race toward them.

Steering with the water rudder and his one good engine, Jimmy managed at the last minute to swerve away from the boat and head toward the seaplane pier that protruded out into the river from the foot of Tu Do Street. By the time he reached the docking area, his speed had gradually decreased to the point that he had everything under control and was even able to hold the handkerchief himself. He killed the engine and allowed the airplane to float gently for the last few feet until it bumped lightly against the wooden pier, where an Annamese dockworker stood holding a rope, ready to make the plane fast. Not until his aircraft was secured did Jimmy let out a long sigh of relief, running a hand through his sweat-soaked sandy hair, and allow himself to look through the window at the damaged engine.

It was misshapen and twisted; a big, jagged hole gaped in the nacelle; and the propeller dangled uselessly, canted at a bizarre angle. The sheet-aluminum covering of the underside of the wing was scorched by fire, and the fabric of the control surfaces was burned away, exposing the bare ribs underneath. Just on the other side of the blackened wing was a fuel tank -- and if the fire had reached it, the plane would have gone up in one huge explosion. Jimmy breathed a prayer of relief that the thin-gauge aluminum skin had proven strong enough to impede the fire.

It was only then that Jimmy thought of the young Japanese woman beside him, a passenger he had brought to Saigon from Port St. Jacques. She was sitting quietly, not having uttered a sound since asking if they were about to crash.

"Thanks for the first aid, Miss Amano," he said. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, thank you," Yukari Amano answered in a tiny voice. Her eyes were fixed straight ahead, staring through the windshield, and she gripped her Western-style purse tightly, one hand stained with Jimmy's blood.

Jimmy unsnapped his seat belt and harness. "Well, it's over with. We can get out now."

"Yes, thank you," Yukari replied again in the same small manner. She made no effort to move.

Jimmy looked at her curiously. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"I... I seem quite unable to move," Yukari admitted.

Jimmy chuckled, and his smile creased his rugged face. "Well, that's understandable. We just came through what you might call a hair-raising experience." He reached for her seat belt buckle. "Would you like me to help you?"

"Yes, thank you," Yukari answered.

Still pressing the handkerchief to his wound with one hand, Jimmy used his other hand to unfasten Yukari's restraint and help her out of her seat. They stepped over the bulkhead of the small door just behind the cockpit and walked through the passenger compartment of the plane. Yukari was short enough to walk standing up, but Jimmy, who was six-feet-two, had to bend to avoid hitting his head as he passed through the cabin. Normally any of Jimmy's passengers would have ridden back here for the one-hour flight from Port St. Jacques to Saigon. However, Jimmy, the sole owner of the small unscheduled air service, had to make money any way he could, so on this flight the passenger seats were filled with revenue-producing sacks and boxes of freight. Even so, he could have made room in the cabin for Yukari, but, as he had informed her when he picked her up, it would be more comfortable for her up front with him. Smiling shyly, she had accepted his offer.

In the course of the flight Jimmy had learned that Yukari, who had been enjoying a three-day vacation at the seashore in the French resort town of Port St. Jacques, was the twenty-one-year-old daughter of Commander Hiroshi Amano, an aviator in the Japanese Imperial Navy. Commander Amano was in French Indochina as a military attaché to the Japanese consulate; because his duty was considered diplomatic rather than military, he had been granted the very rare privilege of being allowed to have his family accompany him. The Japanese consulate had made quarters available for the Amano family on rue de Pasteur, an avenue of well-kept lawns and stately villas. Hiroshi's wife, Yuko, had gasped in delighted surprise when she saw where they were to live: a large, Western-style, high-ceilinged house, cooled by spinning overhead fans and set in the midst of a shaded garden behind twelve-foot-high walls.

That was all coming to a close, though, for Commander Hiroshi Amano and his family would be returning to Japan the next day. It was because they were about to leave that Hiroshi had allowed Yukari to make an unaccompanied visit to the seashore. Hiroshi's wife and sixteen-year-old son were at home making preparations to leave, while Hiroshi would be meeting Yukari on her return from Port St. Jacques.

Jimmy opened the aircraft's door and spotted a Japanese man dressed in crisp naval whites complete with diplomatic braid waiting on the docks. Hiroshi Amano, to be sure, Jimmy thought. Though certainly, like everyone else, Hiroshi had seen the sudden engine fire, he displayed no outward emotion. He stood with his legs slightly spread, holding a small riding quirt behind his back, as he waited stoically for his daughter. Jimmy helped Yukari from the plane, then walked with her as she went to greet Hiroshi.

"Hello, Father," Yukari said in Japanese, bowing politely.

"Was your visit to the seashore pleasant?" Hiroshi asked.

"Yes, Father."

"I am glad. Wait in the car, please."

"Yes, Father." Yukari turned to Jimmy and bowed slightly. Jimmy bowed back, and then Yukari walked over to her father's staff car. The driver opened the back door for her, bowing deeply as she slipped inside.

Hiroshi watched until his daughter was safely inside the car, then turned back to Jimmy. "You are injured?" he asked, switching to English. It was excellent.

Jimmy took the handkerchief down and looked at it. It was blood-soaked. "It looks worse than it is," he replied, putting the handkerchief back. "A cut, that's all."

"You should have it seen to," Hiroshi said. He called over his shoulder to his driver, and the driver, bowing sharply, barked a one-word reply, then hurried off. "I have sent for a doctor," the commander said.

"Thank you."

"It is I who should be grateful, Mr. Blake," Hiroshi insisted. "Your skill as an aviator saved my daughter's life."

"I appreciate your expression of gratitude, Commander Amano," Jimmy answered dryly, "but the truth is, I was trying to save my own life. Your daughter just happened to be with me."

"Yes, to be sure. Nevertheless, that was a display of skillful flying on your part. And to show my appreciation, I would like to invite you to be the dinner guest of my family tonight. I apologize for giving you so little notice, but we will be leaving the country tomorrow."

"You're going back to Japan?"

"Yes. We will be flying back. I do hope the incident today hasn't so frightened my daughter that she will be unable to fly."

Jimmy smiled, and his face was filled with admiration. "Your daughter is a very brave young lady, Commander Amano. She didn't show the slightest bit of fear."

"That pleases me," Hiroshi replied. "You will accept my invitation?

"I am honored by it."

Hiroshi's driver returned then, leading a man in a white suit carrying a small black satchel.

"This man is a doctor," Hiroshi said. "Please allow him to look at your wound."

"Yes, I will. Thank you again," Jimmy said.

The Japanese naval officer bowed, and Jimmy bowed back, then watched as Commander Amano returned to his car. Not until the car was driving away did Jimmy turn his attention back to the airplane. Already it was being unloaded by a couple of Annamese, and it bobbed up and down each time one of them entered or left the cabin. The native workers were wearing only khaki shorts and rope-and-leather sandals, and in their half-naked state it was easy to see how thin they were. But looks were deceiving, because they moved the heavy sacks and boxes with little apparent effort.

The man in the white suit stepped in front of Jimmy and held up his medical bag. "Bac si," he said, and Jimmy recognized the local term for doctor.

Jimmy nodded. "All right, fix me up, Doc. I don't have time for this."

The doctor looked at the wound; then, by gestures, he indicated that Jimmy needed stitches.

"Yeah, well, can you do it here? I've got to look after my plane." Jimmy pointed to the dock. "Here," he said. "Do it here."

The doctor said something, but Jimmy didn't understand him.

"What?"

"He says if he does it here, it will leave a bad scar," a bystander translated for him.

Jimmy laughed. "A scar, huh? Hell, what difference does that make? I wasn't pretty to begin with. Tell him to sew me up."

The bystander relayed the message, and, finding an empty crate, Jimmy sat down while the doctor cleaned his wound, then began sewing it shut. The operation drew a crowd of curious onlookers, and, through the translator, the doctor apologized for them.

"Oh, hell, let 'em watch," Jimmy said. "I disappointed 'em when I didn't crash. They ought to have some kind of a 'em show."

The doctor sewed for another moment or two; then he cut the thread and tied it off. After that he put a clean bandage over the wound.

"Thanks," Jimmy said, pulling several bills from his wallet and offering them to the doctor.

The doctor looked at the money, then waved his hands in protest. He spoke to the translator.

"He says the Japanese man has already paid," the translator said.

"Then tell him this is a tip," Jimmy said. "I don't have enough to fix my airplane anyway, so I may as well be generous."

The doctor accepted the money, smiling broadly at his good fortune.

When the doctor left, Jimmy walked back over to his plane, stepped onto the bow, then scrambled up top and crawled between the two engines. The right power plant was undamaged, but the left engine hung in its mountings, grotesquely twisted and blackened.

"What happened, Monsieur Blake?" a man called.

Jimmy recognized André LeGrand's voice and groaned. LeGrand was the chief loan officer for the Banque de Saigon -- and the last person Jimmy wanted to see. Jimmy owed the bank twenty-five hundred dollars on his plane. Now he wouldn't be able to make the money to pay the bank until his plane was repaired. And he wouldn't be able to repair his plane until he made some money.

"I had an engine fire," Jimmy grumbled. He managed to disconnect one of the cowling latches, even though it was warped by the fire. With the latch disconnected he was able to open the cowling and look down on the blackened engine. The smell of burned rubber and oil wafted into his nose. When he saw the fuel line, he let out a sniff of disgust. "And here's the culprit," he added, holding the rubber hose in his hand. "A broken fuel line."

"Such a shame," the banker said, making tsk-tsk sounds. "How difficult is it to fix a broken fuel line?"

"The fuel line's no problem," Jimmy said. He pointed to the engine. "But the crankshaft, propeller, cylinder walls, and pistons are shot. It's going to take a major rebuild, if not a new engine."

"I see," LeGrand said. "And that means what?"

"That means time and money," Jimmy replied. He smiled thinly. "Neither of which I have at this moment."

LeGrand cleared his throat. "What do you plan to do?" he asked.

Jimmy shut the cowling and pushed the fastener shut. It was an automatic move, though in truth the engine was so badly damaged that it made no difference whether the cowling was shut or not.

"I guess the only thing I can do is try and raise enough money to replace the engine," Jimmy said.

"Yes, to be sure," LeGrand agreed. "And while you are about it, perhaps you will be so kind as to raise enough money to pay the note at the bank as well. It is due by noon tomorrow."

"I thought maybe you could give me a ninety-day extension," Jimmy said. "And loan me enough money to make the repairs," he added halfheartedly.

"Yes, I thought as much," LeGrand said. He shook his head slowly and clucked his tongue. "I wish I could, Monsieur Blake. I rather like you, you know. But, unfortunately, one cannot let business decisions be clouded by friendship. You mustn't forget that I have a board of directors to satisfy, and they are not disposed to wait any longer. You do understand."

Jimmy sighed. "Yeah, I understand. And you understand, I hope, that without that extension and the additional loan, there's no way I can pay you. You'll have to take the airplane. And in its present condition, I'm afraid that it's not even worth what I owe you."

"Such are the risks of business," LeGrand said.

Jimmy climbed down from the airplane, then turned around and took one long, wistful look back at it. He sighed. "Okay, there it is. It's all yours."

"There is no hurry. Noon tomorrow will be soon enough," LeGrand replied with a shrug. "I have no fear that you will fly it away. It is too bad that your idea of a Southeast Asia airline didn't work out. But with only one airplane and one pilot the odds were against you."

"Yeah," Jimmy said. "I guess they were."

"What will you do now? Will you fly for Pan Am?"

"Pan Am? Hell, no. I hate those bastards. I guess I'll go back on with World Air Transport."

"Will they rehire you?"

"I'm sure they will. The president of the company, Willie Canfield, is a good friend of mine. And he told me when I left that if this didn't work out, he'd take me back. Although I probably won't get on as captain," Jimmy admitted. "But it doesn't matter. I'm not too proud to fly in the right-hand seat, and Willie knows that."

"I wish you good luck, Monsieur Blake," LeGrand said.

"Thanks."

Jimmy turned and walked away from the seaplane without looking back.

"Monsieur Blake, wait! Don't you want to remove your things from the plane?" LeGrand called.

"I'm wearing my leather jacket," Jimmy answered over his shoulder. "There's nothing else I want."

Hiroshi Amano was taller than the average Japanese man, and he accentuated his height even more by the ramrod erectness of his carriage. He was forty-two, a commander in the Imperial Navy, and though the caste system had been officially abolished in the previous century, he was by entitlement -- and still considered himself to be -- a samurai, a practitioner of the feudal Bushido code of chivalry, whose motto was: "Always live a life prepared to die."

Though the job of military attaché might seem a very tame assignment for a warrior, Hiroshi's job in Indochina was actually more than it seemed. Japan, which was being boycotted by the Western nations for its "adventures" in China, would soon face a serious shortage in oil, steel, and many other of the critical raw materials it needed to keep its economy going. One possible solution to that problem lay in the mineral-rich regions of Southeast Asia. However, as Southeast Asia was entirely controlled by Great Britain, France, and Holland, it was becoming more and more evident that Japan's only route to the raw materials it needed would be by military action. Hiroshi's objective, then, performed under cover of military attaché, was to gauge the strength of French Indochina's defenses. It was to make his actual duty less obvious that he had been allowed -- in fact, encouraged -- to take his wife, daughter, and son with him for the six-month assignment.

Hiroshi's family was present to greet Jimmy Blake that evening when the Annamese servant took the pilot's shoes and showed him into the parlor. Because of the French influence in Indochina, the architecture of the house was European. The clothes Hiroshi and his family were wearing were also Western-style, but the furnishings of the house and the conventions of the Amano family were strictly Japanese. They had been sitting on pillows on the floor around a low table, and when Jimmy arrived, they stood and bowed formally. Jimmy somewhat self-consciously returned their bow, then presented the box he was carrying to Hiroshi.

"How is your wound?" Hiroshi asked, accepting the present.

"Fine, fine," Jimmy said, putting his hand to the bandage. "Nothing to it."

"I am glad it was of no consequence."

"I brought you a fifth of Kentucky bourbon. I hope you like it."

"Thank you," Hiroshi said. "I must confess that I have developed a taste for American whiskey. Your gift pleases me very much. And now, if you would, allow me to introduce the rest of my family."

Hiroshi's wife, Yuko, like his daughter, Yukari -- who smiled shyly at Jimmy -- was an exquisitely beautiful woman, and to look at the two of them, Jimmy thought, he'd be more inclined to say they were sisters rather than mother and daughter. Saburo, the teenage son, was making an obvious effort to maintain as erect a bearing as his father. He shook hands firmly with Jimmy when he was introduced. Yukari withdrew with her mother to see to the preparation and serving of dinner; Saburo, on the other hand, asserted his right as a male by standing alongside his father. But Saburo's prerogative extended only so far as to be present, Jimmy saw, because conversation was carried on exclusively by Jimmy and Hiroshi.

Dinner was ready, and everyone sat on cushions arrayed around the low table. There was perfect symmetry to the way the dinner of rice, fish, fruit, and vegetables was displayed, as if the meal was a work of art. Then, as Jimmy looked at it, he realized that it was a work of art. He could imagine that Yukari and her mother had gone to great lengths to arrange the colors, shapes, and sizes in such a way as to make the most pleasing presentation.

Jimmy was offered a fork but he declined, choosing instead to use chopsticks. He could see that his adroitness with the implements pleased his hosts, and he was glad. He decided, though, that it was probably best not to tell them that he had learned the skill from a bar girl down on Cong Ly Street.

Throughout the dinner Jimmy could feel Yukari's eyes on him. Each time he'd feel her gaze, he looked over toward her, but he never managed to catch her in the act so that he was unable to exchange the slightest communication with her, even through glances. When he did glance toward her, he saw that she and her mother were looking down at their plates as if they were totally remote from the proceedings. Jimmy would have thought that they were paying no attention whatever had they not been so quick to respond to the slightest signal from Hiroshi, or even from Saburo, when a cup was to be filled or a plate removed.

At the meal's conclusion Yukari and her mother cleared the table quickly; then Hiroshi dismissed the two women and his son with a slight wave of his hand. Bowing deeply, they withdrew, leaving Jimmy and Hiroshi alone.

"I know it is difficult for Westerners to sit for so long on the floor," Hiroshi offered. "There are some chairs in the living room, if you prefer."

"Whatever you wish, Commander," Jimmy said. "I'm quite comfortable here."

"Good. Then here we shall stay. You eat with chopsticks, you sit on the floor, you pay the proper respect to our customs... You are a diplomat, Mr. Blake, as well as a fine aviator," Hiroshi said with admiration. He opened the whiskey and poured two glasses, handing one of them to Jimmy. "To our two countries," he suggested.

"To our two countries," Jimmy replied, touching his glass to Hiroshi's.

"My wife's brother lives in America," Hiroshi said after they took a sip. "His name is Yutake Saito. He is a gardener in Los Angeles."

"Is that so? Well, there are many Japanese living in Los Angeles, from what I understand," Jimmy said.

"Yes, that is true. I visited Los Angeles in 1932, when I represented my country in the Olympic games, While there, I met not only my wife's brother, but many Japanese-Americans."

"You were in the '32 Olympics?"

Hiroshi smiled. "My event was pistol shooting, in case you are wondering what event an old man could enter."

"No, I..." Jimmy started to protest, but then he smiled. "You're right. I was a little surprised," he admitted. "I always think of Olympics as running and jumping... sports for the very young. So tell me, how did you like America?"

"I liked it very much." Hiroshi took another swallow of his drink and studied Jimmy over the rim of his glass. "That is why I hope our diplomats will be able to avoid a great Pacific war between our countries."

Jimmy's eyes narrowed. "Why do you say that? Do you think there will be a war between America and Japan?"

"I am a professional military man, and I think a war with America would be a very bad thing for Japan," Hiroshi replied. "I am afraid, however, that there will be a war. Do you think not?"

"I don't know. I have to confess that I had no idea things had gotten to that state. I guess I've just been minding my own business, trying to make my airline work. I should have been paying more attention."

"Let us speak of something other than war," Hiroshi said and smiled. "Tell me about your airplane. Will you be able to repair it?" He lifted the bottle to fill Jimmy's empty glass.

"Thank you," Jimmy said, holding his glass out. He sighed. "No, I won't be able to repair it," he said. "But it doesn't matter because it isn't even my plane anymore. I had to give it back to the bank. Today was my last flight."

"I am so sorry."

"Don't be," Jimmy replied. "It was very foolish of me to think I could make a go of it with my own unscheduled air service. At least if I start flying for World Air Transport again, I'll get paid. That's more than I can say about the last eighteen months, when every penny I've made has gone back into that plane."

"You will be flying the Clipper, then?" Hiroshi asked.

"No, Pan American flies the Clipper. World Air Transport flies the Windjammer."

"Ah, yes, the Windjammer. I know of it. It is a four-engine flying boat, built by Rockwell-McPheeters Aviation," Hiroshi said. "The engines develop fifteen hundred horsepower each, the craft will carry seventy-five people at a cruising speed of one hundred seventy-five miles per hour, and it has a range of four thousand miles."

Jimmy laughed with surprise. "You seem to know a great deal about the Windjammer."

Hiroshi smiled easily. "When it was first introduced there was a great deal published about it. As I, too, am an aviator, I found the information most interesting. You have flown this airplane?"

"Oh, yes. Before I tried to start my own airline, I was a captain for World Air Transport."

"And how does such a huge ship handle?"

Jimmy grinned. "Like a dream. I mean, when you see it alongside a dock, it looks as ungainly as a battleship. But when it's flying, it handles like a speedboat." He tossed his drink down.

"When you were flying for World Air Transport, did you fly the Pacific route?" Hiroshi asked, pouring more whiskey into Jimmy's empty glass.

"Yes, I did," Jimmy replied. "Well, I wound up here, but I actually started out flying the Atlantic on the New York-to-Lisbon run. I switched to the Pacific last October. Then I found out that World Air Transport was selling the Grumman they'd been using for route development, so I decided to borrow some money to buy it and start my own airline. The rest, as they say, is history. Only, in my case, it's a very short history. As you can see, I didn't last very long." Jimmy tossed this drink down, too, then put his hand to his forehead and smiled crookedly. "These things get to you pretty fast, don't they?"

"I am interested in your experience with World Air Transport," Hiroshi said, ignoring Jimmy's remark. "Four thousand miles isn't enough range to allow you to cross the Pacific without landing somewhere. Where do you have bases?" He held up the whiskey bottle, offering Jimmy another drink.

Jimmy smiled. "Commander, are you trying to get me drunk so you can get information out of me?"

"That would be a waste of good whiskey, wouldn't it?" Hiroshi replied smoothly. "Have I asked you anything that isn't public knowledge?"

"No," Jimmy admitted. "No, I guess you haven't."

"Then in that case I am not asking for military secrets. I am merely an aviator like you, talking about something for which we both share a passion. You do have a passion for flying, do you not?"

"Oh, yeah," Jimmy said. He got a faraway look in his eyes. "There's nothing quite like watching the sun come up over the rim of the earth when you're flying at ten thousand feet above a solid-blue ocean. One minute it's so dark, you feel that you're flying inside an inverted bowl; then, in the very next second, there's an explosion of light that touches the ends of the earth. It is, at the same time, the loneliest and the most wonderful feeling in the world." Jimmy smiled, a bit self-conscious over the fact that he had allowed someone else to look into a secret part of his being. "I'm sorry. I guess I got a little carried away there."

"I am very pleased by your observation. Do you realize that you have spoken of our national symbol, the Rising Sun?" Hiroshi asked.

Jimmy smiled. "Yeah, I guess I have, at that."

"Do you understand haiku?"

"Yeah, it's a sort of poem, isn't it?"

Hiroshi nodded. "Perhaps it would be more properly described as an exercise in discipline than as poetry. You see, you must express a thought that will send ripples of association through the reader's mind the way a pebble sends ripples through a still pool. And you must do this in three lines that comprise exactly seventeen syllables. I have composed a haiku about flying. Would you care to hear it?"

"Yes, very much."

"High above the crystal sun

I await the destiny

of my soul."

"Yeah," Jimmy said. "Yeah, that's the way it is. You got it just right." He held out his glass. "If you don't mind, I guess I will have another. After all, I'm the one that brought the whiskey over here, so if I get drunk, it's my own fault, isn't it?"

Hiroshi laughed. "After your harrowing experience today, you deserve to get drunk if you wish."

Copyright © 1993 by Robert Vaughan


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