San Francisco—1939

There was no shortage of scenery to look at as San Francisco's waterfront slid by the windows of my hired Lincoln limousine, but I was oblivious to most of it. My mind was five miles east on an island in the middle of the bay. As you can probably tell I'm a little nervous. This is my first time, and if I didn't get it right, it could be my last time.

To be honest, which I seldom get to be, my "hired limousine" is actually borrowed from the Army's Military Intelligence Division (MID) motor pool at the Presidio. The limousine's chauffeur isn't what he appears to be, either. His name is Johnny Spicer and he is an MID counter-espionage agent—one of the best.

For the purposes of this assignment, my name is Shiori Sasaki. Of course, I'm only pretending to be Miss Sasaki. She is a Japanese Gunji chōhō-in—military intelligence agent—MID has hidden away so deeply in a secret detention facility she isn't likely to ever see the light of day again. That little detail is important because having two Shiori Sasakis show up in the same place right now could be very awkward.

In what passes for "real life" in the intelligence services, my name is Miko Miura and I was born in the United States to Japanese parents who came to America because my father was concerned about what was happening in Japan. Father is a wise man.

Being born in the United States makes me an American and I am very proud of that.  I am also the rookie on our team.

Naturally, Johnny had to build in some compensation for my novice status when he planned our current mission. He's stuck with me because I am the only available female agent with a Japanese pedigree. I have to say, though, I haven't heard a single word of complaint from him about being saddled with a beginner. In fact, Johnny put a lot of extra effort into preparing me for what was going to happen today.

The Lincoln's engine rumbled a little louder as we climbed the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge approach. Despite the slight increase in engine noise, the Lincoln was still so quiet Johnny didn't have to raise his voice for me to hear him all the way back in the rear seat of the cavernous vehicle. I clearly heard him say, "We're getting close. Anything else we need to talk about before the curtain goes up on our little show?"

"I don't think so, Johnny. I know the plan, so all I have to do is manage to pull my part of it off."

Sensing the concern I was trying to keep out of my voice, Johnny said, "You'll do fine, Miko. Oh, and now would be a good time to check your weapon. Make sure it's ready to go."

That's what I mean about Johnny preparing me for our mission. His suggestion saved me from making a nervous rookie mistake that could have proven fatal. I removed the .32 caliber Browning Model 1910 semi-automatic pistol from my handbag and ejected the seven-round magazine. After working the slide and dry-firing the pistol a few times, I was satisfied the little Browning was up to its crucial role in our plan. I hoped I was, too.

At about its midpoint, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge travels through a long tunnel traversing Yerba Buena Island. Yerba Buena was created by nature, but the square of land appended to the north end of Yerba Buena is a man-made island known by an exotic name borrowed from Robert Lewis Stevenson, "Treasure Island."

I caught sight of our destination as the causeway we were on crossed the lagoon separating the two islands. We were headed for the Pan American Airways seaplane base next to a large passenger terminal temporarily doing double duty as the Administration Building for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition.

While the exposition is the primary reason for Treasure Island's existence, San Francisco plans to turn the entire island into the its municipal airport when the fair ends. In the meantime, Pan American is making use of the lagoon adjacent to the terminal building as their San Francisco seaplane base, which is also the starting point for our mission.

Our boss, Major General Chester Davis, is a straight-to-the-point kind of person. For example, he described focus of our assignment like this: "This Jap bastard, Kazuki Yamada, is a big stick in what they call the Kokuryukai, or Black Dragon Society, over there in Japan."

I noticed Johnny looking at me with what I thought might be an apologetic expression. I gave Johnny a smile and a little shrug to let him know I had not taken offense at the term, "Jap bastard." In fact, I was getting used to hearing the words "Jap" and "bastard" together, and from what I know about the people running the land of the rising sun these days, this fellow, Yamada really was a bastard.

Then General Davis got to the heart of our mission. "Yamada is on his way to New York, where he is supposed to meet a guy from Germany named Joseph Goebbels. Herr Goebbels is Adolf Hitler's Minister for Nazi Hogwash. We figure Goebbels is meeting Yamada to work out Japanese cooperation in the war Hitler is planning to wage for control of Europe, and eventually, the world. The President doesn't want that meeting to happen. Understood?"

Exactly how we prevented Yamada from conferring with Goebbels was our problem. Johnny figures our best opportunity to derail the meeting will be when Yamada arrives from Japan aboard a Pan American Airways seaplane. The woman whose place I was taking is a Chōhō-in—a Japanese intelligence agent. She is supposed to meet Yamada when he gets here and escort him to New York by transcontinental train. We know Yamada has never met Shiori Sasaki, so Johnny's plan was for me to take her place and lure him into a situation where we can put Yamada under wraps and make sure he is not on that New York train when it pulls out of the Oakland Southern Pacific depot.

At one point in the planning of our mission I heard Johnny mutter something about just shooting the Japanese gentleman as he got off the plane. Being new to MID, I'm still not sure how seriously to take comments like that. Besides being contrary to what I think of as the "American way," shooting a man right there in front of God and everybody would most certainly raise a ruckus we did not want to raise.

The thing that gave me pause to think in this situation is, aside from his kindness toward me, Johnny Spicer has the look of someone who would not hesitate to kill a man in cold blood without lengthy deliberation if the situation demanded it. That quality gave me confidence in our mission and scared me to death. Becoming a "secret agent" requires some adjustments in how one views the world.

On the causeway that crosses the lagoon between Yerba Buena and Treasure islands, I watched a giant Pan American Clipper glide down from the sky like a graceful bird. It settled onto the choppy waters of San Francisco Bay with hardly a splash. I got a closer look at the plane as it taxied up to a dock behind the terminal building. The Pan American literature I studied in preparation for our mission said their Clipper ships were built by the Boeing Aircraft Company in Seattle, Washington.

In all, Pan American is purchasing a dozen of these airplanes from Boeing. If you've never seen one in person, Pan Am's Clippers are silver in color, have four engines mounted on the wing across top of the ship, and employ triple tails. Overall, they give the impression of being quite capable of navigating the seven seas.

For insignia, the Clippers have large American flags painted on their noses, and above that they display the Pan American Airways emblem. The most striking feature of the ships is their size. A greyhound bus looks puny in comparison.

The Pan Am brochure said their Clippers could carry a flight crew of ten, and up to 77 passengers in total luxury. Unlike most airlines, Pan American offers only one level of service. All seats are "first class," so a one-way ticket from Hong Kong to San Francisco costs $760. For about forty-dollars more you could buy a brand new Ford coupé.

Up ahead, at the Treasure Island end of the causeway, long lines of those Fords, along with every other automobile brand imaginable, waited to enter the Exposition. Fortunately, there is a bypass for people with business at the extremely modern streamlined administration/terminal building. The front of the terminal is curved to match the shape of the circular drive in front of it. Johnny pulled to the curb close to the central entrance doors.

While Johnny walked back to open the door for me, I took one more quick look at the newspaper photograph of Kazuki Yamada in my handbag. He looked a lot like photos I'd seen of Japanese Prime Minister Tōjō—short, bald, sporting a narrow mustache, and wearing round glasses with black frames. Come to think of it, that's what most Japanese dignitaries look like.

Next, I picked up the white cardboard sign we made which said, "K. YAMADA," and set off to meet the dragon. As I slid out of the car past Johnny, he said, "Good luck, Kiddo, and don't forget to let Yamada get into the car before you do. Men still go first in Japan."

Inside the terminal, I stood to one side of the entrance with my "Yamada" sign and watched for him in the crowd. It should not have surprised me that there were a lot of Japanese among the Hong Kong Clipper's passengers, but it did. Strangely, seeing so many Japanese men in "my" country made me a little nervous.

I glanced out the entrance doors and gained a little confidence from seeing Johnny outside. He was leaning against the Lincoln's driver-side front door in the casual manner a Japanese gentleman would expect of a lazy American flunky. Kazuki Yamada's chauffer would have stood in a ramrod straight military position of attention while waiting, thus demonstrating his high regard and great respect for his master.

As I turned back toward the crowd in the terminal, I spotted Yamada . . . and a surprise. The information on Yamada's travel plans made no mention of a companion, but there he was . . . a younger, more athletic version of Yamada walking alongside our man. Of course, he immediately spotted my sign, so I had no opportunity to warn Johnny about the second fellow. Worse, Yamada's companion looked and acted as if he might be a bodyguard.

I greeted Yamada in the traditional way, bowing politely in deference to his lofty position. Our introductions did not include Yamada's traveling companion. That told me the companion worked for, or was in some other way subservient to Yamada.

A Red Cap luggage porter handling their bags used his luggage cart to prop the door open while Yamada, his companion, and I walked out of the terminal. I gestured toward the Lincoln limousine, noting the trunk lid was open to receive our guests' bags and Johnny was standing at the passenger-side rear door waiting to help us enter the car..

I watched Johnny carefully, hoping for some indication he had modified our plan to include dealing with Yamada's bodyguard or whatever the guy was. That's when it dawned on me Johnny would be expecting me to use my head and do whatever I could to help improve our situation. I also noted Johnny had unfolded the rear-facing jump-seat on the driver's side. I guessed he didn't want me sitting between the two men on the limo's wide rear seat. That was fine with me.

From my perch on the jump seat, I had a clear view through the limo's twin rear windows. I saw Johnny tip the Red Cap and shut the trunk lid. Next, Johnny closed the driver-side rear door, looking directly into my eyes as he did so. So far as I could tell, though, he was not trying to send me any secret messages. He just studied my face for the second or two it took him to close the car door. Maybe he was expecting a message from me. If so, I'm afraid I disappointed him.

Yamada turned out to be a friendly sort of guy who spoke very good English. He cheerfully engaged me in casual conversation about the "so wonderful San Francisco weather." Meanwhile, Johnny settled into the driver's seat and inched the limo out into the stream of traffic on the terminal's circular drive.

While trying to keep up with Yamada's chatty conversation, I desperately tried to think of a way to salvage the plan that was disintegrating before my eyes. Johnny's original scheme was to drive the limo to a parking and service garage not far from the Sixteenth Street Oakland railroad depot, where we would be met by MID agents who would take Yamada off our hands. Until that happened, I was to use the pistol in my purse as necessary to control Yamada if he caught on to what was happening.

I wished I knew what Johnny was thinking now, but our relationship had not yet progressed to the level of intimacy required for mindreading. As far as I could see, he had two options, either continue with what was left of our plan, or drop the plan entirely and simply take Yamada and his companion to the Oakland train depot as they expected us to do. From my point of view, there was a big problem with that option: Shiori Sasaki was expected to escort Yamada all the way to New York. While these thoughts bounced around in my head, Yamada's companion watched me with a fascinated expression, appearing to hang on every word I said. I was pretty sure I didn't like the man.

Our route took us over the eastern section of the Bay Bridge and into Oakland. Immediately after leaving the bridge, Johnny made a right turn onto Grand Avenue. That brought us into an industrial part of town only a few blocks from Oakland's 16th Street Station. It was also where Johnny made his move.

The Lincoln lurched as if it hit a large hole in the pavement, and Johnny immediately pulled to the curb. Turning around to face us from the driver's seat, he said, "Feels like we blew the right rear tire. I need to check it. Unless I have to change the tire, this will only take a minute."

Johnny had a plan and he probably expected me to do something helpful about improving the situation at my end of things. The only thing I could think of to do that might be helpful was get to the Browning pistol in my handbag. As Yamada jabbered on about the sights of Oakland and San Francisco, I opened my handbag. Yamada's companion, however, smelled a rat. A small black Beretta semi-automatic pistol appeared in his hand as if he conjured it out of thin air. The Beretta was pointed directly at me.

"Miss Sasaki, or whatever your name really is, kindly lay your handbag on the floor and keep your hands where I can see them."

We heard the trunk lid open and bodyguard was faced with a dilemma. We had him surrounded with Johnny behind him and me in front of him. Yamada was confused. He looked at his companion as if the man had just sprouted horns and a tail. "Toshiko, what are you doing?"

I knew exactly what Toshiko was doing. He was about to do exactly what Johnny would have told me to do under the same circumstances: take the easy shot and eliminate one half of his problem, namely me.

Johnny beat him to the punch. Almost.

We heard three muffled pistol shots in quick succession. "POP . . . POP . . . POP!" Within a heartbeat, probably his last, three red blotches appeared on the front of the bodyguard's white shirt. Johnny had shot him from the trunk by aiming through the backseat cushion. Johnny's aim was good even when he couldn't see what he was shooting at.

The companion looked at me with a confused expression, as if he thought I shot him, but he couldn't understand how I'd done it without a gun. The pistol in his hand coughed once and I felt the bullet's impact just below my ribcage on my left side. Now I was certain I didn't like the man.

The bodyguard collapsed forward, dropping his pistol onto the floor. Yamada finally caught on to the situation and grabbed for his companion's Beretta on the floor. I must have been running on pure adrenalin by that time. "Please don't make me shoot you, Mister Yamada. Just lean back and be still."

Suddenly, my thoughts became vague and almost random, like I had no control over them. I was wondering if MID would reimburse me for the cost of replacing my blouse. After all, it was damaged in the line of duty.

Johnny jerked the right-side passenger door open and grabbed the companion's throat. It took me a second to realize he was checking for a pulse. Apparently he didn't find one. Picking up the companion's pistol, Johnny said, "This guy's done. You okay, Miko?"

I was in no particular pain, but my white blouse was rapidly becoming a red blouse and what seemed to me to be copious quantities of my blood answered Johnny' question. "Sit tight, Kiddo. Help is only a block away." Turning to Yamada, Johnny said, "Yamada, your one and only chance of surviving this situation is to keep your mouth shut and do exactly what this woman tells you to do. Remember, you are worth no more to me alive than dead."

My right hand—the one with the Browning in it—was getting a little shaky by the time Johnny pulled into the open truck door of a warehouse around the corner from the train depot. Inside, help was waiting for us. The four men waiting in the warehouse wasted no time coming to the party. Two of them dragged the bodyguard out of the car through the right rear door and let his body fall to the concrete floor.

Two more men opened the rear door on my side of the Lincoln. As they pulled Yamada out, he looked at me with a hurt expression. I said, "So sorry, Mister Yamada. Just be glad for the fact you are the only one back here who isn't bleeding or dead."

With Yamada out, Johnny sat on the running board outside the door next to me and leaned in. He got a clear look at the blood on my blouse and yelled back over his shoulder, "Where's the nearest doctor?"

One of the MID men in the warehouse ran over to the Lincoln. "Who needs the doctor, Johnny?"

"Miko took a round."

"Climb in and see what you can do to stop the bleeding, I'll get us to a medic. Alta Bates is only ten minutes away."

Johnny lifted me onto the backseat, and then he unbuttoned my blouse and pressed his folded handkerchief to the wound. That's when I remembered I didn't have anything on under my blouse.

I also remember thinking I ought to be embarrassed because Johnny could see . . . well, he was seeing everything there was to see north of my belly button. Modesty, however, was the least of my concerns at that moment. In a semi-dream world, I looked at his face and felt myself smiling. Johnny smiled back at me. That seemed like a friendly thing for him to do.

For some reason Johnny's smile reminded me I hadn’t had a boyfriend since I was ten. I squeezed Johnny's hand. He squeezed back. That seemed like another very friendly thing for him to do.

After sewing me up, the Alta Bates Hospital emergency doctors insisted I stick around for a few days, during which I slept more than I was awake. Every time I woke up, though, Johnny was in a chair next to my hospital bed, and each time a horrible dream terrified me to the point I actually screamed, Johnny woke me with a gentle kiss on the forehead and held my hand until I drifted off to sleep again. Once, I thought his gentle kiss found my lips instead of my forehead, but I never got Johnny to confess taking advantage of my vulnerability, so I probably dreamed the kiss on the lips. It sure felt like the real thing, though.


Design Steve Eitzen
Story, header graphic & HPO logo © HPO Productions
Character images © 123RF--Used by license
All rights reserved by copyright owners

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.