Gold Fever by Tom Stern For Yolanda, who is not in this book. Inspired by a true story Names, characters and locations changed for reasons that will become obvious Acknowledgments My deep thanks to Professor Ken Atchity, founder of AEI, for his guidance and support; to Monica Faulkner, editor par excellence, for her wonderful work; and to my many friends who offered valuable suggestions and comments. The War-Prayer O Lord, our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief. We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen. Mark Twain (Written during America's 1898 to 1913 war to colonize the Philippines, Twain decided not to have the prayer published until after his death. "I have told the truth in that, and only dead men can tell the truth in this world.") Prologue General Yamashita‟s Gold South China Sea, off the Philippines, before dawn, 1942 "Wake up, captain! Multiple sonar contacts just came out of a squall. They're almost on top of us, sir!" Richard Jamieson, captain of USS Racer, snapped awake, his heart racing. In enemy waters he slept fully dressed-- ten seconds later he was in the control room. "Take her up to periscope depth." As the sub rose toward the ocean surface, he had time for a moment's appreciation of his crew's drilled teamwork. Now four weeks at sea out of Australia, they were the first Americans to venture into the main shipping lanes to Japan. The men, every one of them, were as ready for combat as they'd ever be. "Up periscope." The first officer leaned toward him and whispered, "For Chrissake, Rick, don't keep the scope up as long as last time." Moments later the lens broke through the rolling sea, the movement generating a phosphorescent froth that could betray them to a trained eye even in the near-darkness after nautical dawn. Jamieson was tempted to take only a quick look before down-scoping, but he knew better than to be hasty. With the careful, deliberate eyes of a predator he scanned the faintly illuminated sea--and froze. "Down scope!" he barked. It was the strangest convoy he'd ever seen, one huge freighter and a couple of smaller ones. Surprisingly, one of the escorts was an aircraft carrier of perhaps forty thousand tons, and the convoy was led by a Nagato-class battleship with sixteen-inch guns. "Hell of an escort for a convoy this size," he muttered. His voice hardened. "Let 'em pass. Then we'll shove a couple of steel fish up the carrier's ass." "They're zigging toward us, sir!" "Set the torpedoes for impact detonation. Range'll be fifteen hundred yards, running time two minutes." "Aye-aye, sir." "Up scope!" He tried to make the order sound routine. In the few minutess that had passed, night had changed to early dawn. Now, less than a mile from the convoy, he could see Japanese crewmen servicing fighter planes on the flight deck of the enormous man of war, and beyond them sailors polishing the huge guns of the looming battleship. The carrier was Zaikaku class, the same ships that had hit Pearl Harbor. "Fire all forward torpedoes at the carrier, then turn left full rudder and fire a rear salvo at the battleship. Be ready to dive as soon as the fish are away." "Torpedoes fore and aft ready, captain." "Ready to fire on my mark." "Aye-aye, sir." "Fire one!" Racer shuddered as an explosion of compressed air signaled the launch of the first weapon. "Fire two through four!" A deadly fan of fluorescent wakes sped toward the massive carrier. "Down scope! Dive! Dive! They saw us launch and they're turning this way!" Racer had just attacked the largest and most fabled treasure trove in history, one equal to almost half of the world's wealth, but neither Jamieson nor his doomed crew would ever know. The Japanese carrier's helmsman spotted Racer's onrushing torpedoes and took evasive action, but in doing so exposed the freighter nestled closest to the warship. The first torpedo slammed into the carrier, igniting the munitions in its magazine. Seconds later, the hull exploded in a fireball, sending eighty thousand gallons of seawater per second thundering into the ship as it began its death plunge to the sea bottom four miles below. Fleet Admiral Kenjiro Watanabe, who had been asleep when the torpedo detonated, dove into the last lifeboat as his carrier sank. He watched in despair as Racer's second torpedo flashed past his sinking warship and tore a twenty- foot hole in the side of the lightly armored freighter Shinjuku, destroying its propulsion system and leaving it dead in the water. He gazed at the crippled freighter sinking bow-first into the sea. In a few moments, the golden treasure that it had been his duty to see safely to Japan--a fortune far greater than the total of all those lost at sea during centuries of expeditions by sultans and rajahs--would join his planes, his warship, and his four thousand men at the bottom of the sea. Kenjiro Watanabe, descendant of twenty generations of warriors, had failed. His shame could be expunged in only one way. "When you reach safety, send this wire to General Yamashita in Singapore." He pencilled a few characters on a scrap of paper and turned again to the blazing oil slick that marked the grave of his command. "The curse of the gold!" His voice was so bitter that the surviving crewmen were shocked. "May it curse anyone who touches it!" He handed his highest-ranking crewman the death poem he had composed long ago for his family. The others crawled gingerly to the edges of the lifeboat and turned to face the sea, averting their eyes. After Watanabe disrobed, he disemboweled himself with a seven-inch knife. As Watanabe lay dying in the lifeboat, the Japanese battleship's depth charges crushed the fleeing Racer. The Japanese crew kept watch for survivors bobbing up amid Racer's mobile tombstone, the flotsam and bunker fuel that fouled the smooth sea, but none appeared. Like Jamieson, Watanabe died without knowing the consequences of their deadly encounter. His men had already lowered his body into the deep when the battleship's crew managed to harness a line to the foundering Shinjuku and tow it--and its gold--to Basilan Island in the Philippines. *** Singapore, Japanese Army Headquarters, 1942 General Tomoyuki Yamashita meditated silently. His massive shoulders, developed in the gymnastics of his youth, barely moved with each measured breath. Through half-open eyes, he re-read the flimsy telegraph on the low desk in front of him and pondered its implications. Regret to inform you Shinjuku torpedoed by US submarines and sinking, 12 degrees 15 seconds north, 118 degrees east. Treasure may be lost. Sayonara. Watanabe The brief message presented him with the biggest dilemma of his life: how to safeguard the greatest treasure in history. Yamashita chuckled as he thought of the story behind his good luck. In 1931, when the Japanese swept out of Korea to annex Manchuria, all Asia knew that a wider war would soon come. And those who could protect their assets made plans to do so. For five millennia the Chinese had been collecting gold--trading for it, stealing it in war, wresting vast quantities of it from the mountains of Shandong Province. And for almost as long, so had the peoples of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, and Indonesia. Gold was not their only treasure, for it is in the alluvial beds of these countries that the bulk of the world's diamonds, rubies and sapphires, along with cascades of lesser gems, are to be found. Over the generations, Asia's warlords, nobility, governments, and rich business families had accumulated more than half of all the world's wealth in their storehouses. Now, with war clouds gathering on the Asian horizon, they sought a safe haven for their holdings. The cleverest among them looked to Singapore. Under the protection of the British Royal Navy and 85,000 crack troops, the island fortress was believed impregnable. Throughout the 1930s, wealth flooded into Singapore, and by the time the Japanese launched their simultaneous attack on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines on December 7, 1941, its bank vaults were filled to bursting with more than one hundred thousand tons of gold bullion and two metric tons of investment-grade jewels. Over the centuries, far more gold has been mined from the earth than anyone has ever guessed, but it was only the imminence of war that had brought so much of it together in one place. Fine leather books of account itemized each deposit, giving the rich what turned out to be a false sense of security--for when war finally broke out, Emperor Michinomiya Hirohito's first commands included an order to Yamashita: Take Singapore! In just seven days, the general's troops overwhelmed Singapore's defenses with a sneak attack by land and captured the fortress city. In the first flush of this military success, Yamashita devised plans to use both the plundered wealth and his army to create an independent empire with himself as ruler. But within months the Allies under General Douglas MacArthur began fighting their way toward Singapore. MacArthur's offensive was a direct threat to the treasure--which Yamashita's advisors estimated as worth more than four hundred billion U.S. dollars on the world market. With Hirohito's consent and the help of his navy friends, Yamashita devised a plan to ship the treasure to Tokyo's Fleet Headquarters in a series of clandestine convoys. The first and second convoys, each carrying a thousand metric tons of gold, completed uneventful voyages to Tokyo. But the third and final convoy had consisted of the ill- fated Shinjuku, now at anchor at Basilan with its three thousand tons of gold. And Yamashita dared not risk losing it--or the ninety thousand tons still in his Singapore vaults. Spreading his hands in a gesture of decision, Yamashita rose from his meditation cushion and summoned his closest aides. "Until our fleet crushes the American navy, we can't risk trying to ship Shinjuku's treasure or the rest of what remains in Singapore to Japan." "There's so much open sea north of the Philippines that we can't guarantee the safety of convoys beyond Manila," reported one aide. "Even if we lose the rest of Southeast Asia, we'll hold the Philippines forever," Yamashita growled, pounding his fist on the table to emphasize his determination. "Move it all! To Basilan Island!" *** Basilan Island, Southern Philippines, several weeks later The chain gang, a long, single-file line of Filipino slave laborers, shuffled through the prison gate and along a broad dirt road that led into the volcanic mountains. As the emaciated slaves plodded along, a steady stream of trucks coming from the Shinjuku and a newly arrived fleet of treasure freighters rolled by, covering them with red dust. One prisoner, exhausted by heat and near-starvation, fell to the ground, unable to rise. A Japanese guard stepped over him, chopped off his feet just above the shackles, and left him to bleed to death. The chain gang, beaten men now dragging one set of empty, bloodstained shackles, trudged on. Yamashita, driving by in his open command car, took no sadistic pleasure in watching the man fall, but as a military man he could not but approve of his troops' efficiency. The road narrowed as it climbed into the mountains. Cool streams and waterfalls made musical sounds. Yamashita gazed with pleasure at the Sulu Sea's azure waters sparkling below and at the paradisiacal island of Mindanao just across the Basilan Strait. As his car climbed, the sweltering equatorial heat cooled to near-perfection. Had this been peacetime, he thought, a walk through the rubber plantations and towering coconut groves in the company of his wife or, better, his new young mistress, would have been a heavenly pleasure. But he was at war. Ten miles into the mountains, above the tree line of a towering volcano, the road came to an end at a mining operation. Japanese army engineers lazed near their Mitsubishi bulldozers while a cement batch plant rattled at the edge of the clearing. A battalion of troops stood guard around a soccer-field sized shed in the center of the clearing. The shed was stacked from floor to ceiling with small wooden crates, several thousand in all, each one bearing a label in Japanese, "Corned Beef, Product of Argentina." Junior officers led Yamashita into a tunnel that ended in a large underground chamber already half-filled with the crates. Four thousand years ago, he reflected, Egyptian slaves had carried provisions--food and treasure meant to sustain a newly dead pharaoh on his eternal journey--into similar silent caverns. After the slaves did their work, they were killed and left in the burial chamber to serve their ruler and keep him company in the afterlife. Yamashita liked that image. He stationed himself under a coconut tree, where he spent the afternoon studying war plans and occasionally glancing at the human conveyor belt of Filipinos moving crate after crate from the shed to the subterranean chamber. By dusk the transfer was complete. Yamashita strolled into the cavern, ordered one of the crates opened, and laughed. It contained not canned corned beef but gold bars, six of them, each the size of a loaf of bread. Even in the dim light the ingots shone with a soft luster, and on each was stamped one word: SUMATRA. He gave a signal, and a guard shouted, "All of you, back into the tunnel!" The Japanese troops herded the exhausted workers inside. A moment later, ten heavy-caliber machine guns opened fire. The screaming men collapsed in a rain of lead. Then the Japanese booby-trapped the tunnel with cyanide canisters and sealed it with a concrete plug twenty feet thick. Finally, a team of skilled Japanese gardeners reshaped the terrain, planting native shrubs to conceal the opening and erase all signs of human activity in the canyon. To avoid drawing attention to the buried gold, Yamashita then moved his "treasure troops" across the strait to Zamboanga City, abandoning the area around the volcano to the primitive tribes and fierce Moslems who had ruled there since the time of Kublai Khan. Within two months, luxuriant vines and brush of the tropics eliminated any hint that the treasure had been buried there. Beneath the concealing jungle, the gold lay as silent as a lost Mayan pyramid. The precise location of the treasure was forgotten by all but a handful of Yamashita's men, a number that was further reduced during the carnage of MacArthur's return to the Philippines. In addition to the three million Filipino men, women, and children who were killed in the crossfire, more than a half-million Japanese soldiers died trying to hold the islands. Yamashita, in personal command of defending the Philippines and its hidden treasure, sacrificed most of the Imperial Navy in the fruitless battle at Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in history. Then, in a last frenzied effort to save the gold, he unleashed the kamikazes, pilots who volunteered to commit suicide by slamming their aircraft into American ships in the belief that they were dying for Japan. But they were really dying for Yamashita's gold. Emperor Hirohito gave orders for all troops to fight to the death. When the American "Jungaleers" of the 41st Division of the 6th Army under Generals Dole, Krueger and Fuller landed in Zamboanga City, they helped Yamashita's treasure troops obey Hirohito's order. The 41st, known as the "Butcher Division" because during its entire history in the Pacific it never took a prisoner, killed every last man who had been present at the burial of the gold. A few maps survived, but only the best of cartographers could have deciphered them. As the American troops slaughtered their way toward Manila, Yamashita summoned one of his aides-de-camp--Iwao Matsumoto, a liaison officer to the engineering corps--and ordered him to carry the maps to Fleet Headquarters in Tokyo. Yamashita chose Matsumoto for the distinguished mission first because the young man's father headed the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia--and thus had been raised to be trusted with delicate matters--and second because he was young, ambitious, and as clever as his father. Yamashita expected his aide to rise high and help him invest the treasure after the war. Matsumoto-san had already completed his assignment and returned to the Philippines when at dawn on June 4, 1945, a tidal wave of almost five hundred American B-29 Superfortresses took off from Tinian Island, formed into echelons high above the Pacific, and flew to Tokyo. Almost no resistance rose up to meet them during the attack, which turned Tokyo into an inferno even more horrifying than the atomic-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that would spell the end of the war two months later. During the attack, Fleet Headquarters took several direct hits that destroyed the Imperial Navy Archives, and Yamashita's precious maps. Yamashita retreated to the mountain fastnesses of Northern Luzon but Filipino guerrillas soon captured him and turned him over to General Douglas MacArthur, now holding triumphant court in his imperial suite atop the Manila Hotel. "General Yamashita, listen carefully," MacArthur warned, always respectful of what generals must do in wartime. "You stand before me accused of the slaughter of more than a million souls in this city alone. Unless you can provide a military rationale, we must try you as a war criminal. And the sentence, if you are convicted, shall be death." Although Yamashita knew that revealing the existence of the treasure would have bought him a reprieve, he faced MacArthur stoically. "I followed the orders of my government. Nothing more." "General, I've heard rumors of gold." Yamashita was well aware that MacArthur's father had organized the Philippine gold-mining industry at the beginning of the century and that the general himself harbored an abiding lust for the precious metal. "Nonsense," he lied. "Peasant superstitions." In the absence of any circumstances that could justify mercy or clemency, MacArthur ordered Yamashita hanged in Manila. The pitiless Americans humiliated Matsumoto-san by pressing him into duty as a Japanese observer at the trial and execution. Bound in chains, Matsumoto-san felt great sadness when he heard Yamashita's neck snap. As his general's body swayed in its death agony like a banner over the buried treasure, Matsumoto-san stood at attention and gritted his teeth with anger at the conquerors. How stupid they are, he thought. Had the Americans learned of his wartime cruelties, of his rapes of women and his butchering of Filipino babies, he knew he would have been on the gallows next to Yamashita. And as he watched the urine and feces running down Yamashita's legs, he swore a solemn, irrevocable vow to reclaim the gold and to seek revenge on his nation's enemies: the Americans and the weaklings in Tokyo who had let this happen. Todd Ellison San Francisco, California, after the millenium Todd Ellison pressed with his scalpel and carved a deep incision in the teenage gang member's belly, slicing from ribs to pubic bone with one decisive stroke, opening the boy up like a ripe watermelon. Blood spurted in a smooth arc, then spilled onto the floor of the surgical suite, its bright red color proof that the stab wounds had sliced a major artery. Just as Ellison had suspected. "Hurry, doctor! We're losing him!" the anesthesiologist urged. "Suction here." Ellison tried to sound routine as he motioned to his assistant surgeon, Paul Miller. He felt confident--he had done this dozens of times before--he could locate the pumping vessel, get control, and repair it. Even tired as he was, in the middle of a case he always felt exhilarated by the challenge, excitement, and importance of his work. "There's the bleeder, Todd. Big one. Mesenteric artery." Ellison jammed his gloved hand elbow-deep into the boy's belly and pinched the bleeding vessel. "Got it!" He took a deep breath of relief--then gasped as he saw the cardiac monitor go straight-line. The boy had lost so much blood that his heart had stopped. "Shock him!" He grabbed the defibrillator pads and slammed them against the boy's chest. "Two hundred joules!" As soon as the operating room team stood clear, Ellison pressed the red buttons under his thumbs. The body jerked in response to the burst of electricity. Ellison cast a desperate glance at the heart monitor. The line still stretched as straight and flat as a laser beam. Not a flicker. "Three-sixty!" he shouted. The maximum. He hit the buttons again. The body jerked, quivered. The monitor-- still nothing. Forced to his last option, Ellison grabbed a heavy scalpel from the instrument table, cut between the ribs, then reached inside with his right hand and began squeezing the boy's heart. Small and warm in his big hands, the organ felt surprisingly soft for a muscle that beats a billion times during a life. Rivulets of sweat dripped down his temples, soaking his surgical mask. He kept pumping rhythmically, once per second, as the anesthesiologist transfused four bags of blood into the boy as fast as the IV line would run. Five minutes passed. Ten. "Come on, dammit!" Ellison muttered. "Come back!" Probably because he had already seen too many die, he hated to sense Death coming to take a young one. Abruptly he felt it. The flaccid bag of muscle in his hand gave a faint, rhythmic twitch. Then a forceful contraction. Then, after several more agonizing minutes, finally, a series of productive heartbeats. Relief washed over him. He glanced around the operating room and was briefly amazed, as he was ever so often, at how clearly his own emotions were echoed in his team's body language. When the boy's condition stabilized after more fluids and drugs, they continued the operation, repairing the artery and other damaged blood vessels and taking out two feet of lacerated small bowel. By the time Ellison peeled off his gloves and the boy was wheeled to the recovery room, he'd spent more than five hours in the operating room. Nothing new. Like the other young general surgeons on call at Parnassus Heights Hospital's overburdened emergency room, he'd spent more hours than he could count cleaning up the aftermath, written in blood and bone, of the undeclared warfare that reigned in San Francisco's streets. But God, he was getting tired. *** The first rays of dawn were pouring through the dusty windows in the deserted doctors' lounge when Ellison poured himself a cup of coffee--recently brewed, for once--and eased himself into one of the cracked leatherette armchairs. Miller followed him in, shaking his head and thumbing at the kinks in his neck. "We fix 'em up so they can go out and try to kill each other again," Miller complained. "You recognize the kid's tattoo?" Ellison shook his head. He was thinking that the chair was almost comfortable enough to fall asleep in. He'd never thought so until that moment, but... "Filipino," Miller started. "Them against the Latinos, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the blacks--every one of them against every other one. I'm fucking sick of it." "You're just tired." "Look who's talking!" Miller retorted. "With all your night cases, they're calling you the Midnight Cowboy." Ellison shrugged. Between alimony payments and his medical school debts, the past two years had been pretty rough. He knew that Paul knew it. They'd spent too many late shifts together, and had both been down the same road. The only difference was, Paul had a few years on him. "Right," Paul grinned. "Vicky got the house--" Ellison chimed in on the chorus. "--and I got the shaft." "You heard this one? Marriage is like a typhoon--it starts out with a lot of blowing, and in the end you lose your house." "The only ones who're happy are our lawyers." Ellison tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "Why not? They've probably both gotten enough out of you two to buy themselves each a new Mercedes." "Well, next month's my last payment." "Then what?" "I don't know." Ellison's voice trailed off and the restless sadness welled up in him. Things hadn't worked out at all the way he'd planned. He'd always known how it was going to be by the time he was thirty-one. Plenty of money, a nice wife, maybe two kids, a house. But all he'd wound up with was heartache and his medical license. "I haven't seen you this low since the children's cancer ward." "Yeah." A year operating on dying kids. That had been real hell. Ellison closed his eyes against the pain of those memories. "Remember Johnny--? Johnny...I can't recall his last name." "Carlin. Yeah. Liver cancer. Three years old." A little candle snuffed out too soon. The night Johnny died, Ellison had sat beside his body for half an hour imagining he could still see him breathing. It had been like a hallucination. But finally he'd had to tell Johnny's parents. "Todd...hey, Todd, c'me on. Want some breakfast?" Ellison shook his head. Miller eyed him with mock exasperation. "Well, what the hell do you want?" Ellison stared down into his coffee cup like a fortuneteller reading tea leaves. "I guess...just to practice medicine. With people who really need me." "Nah, you're just burned out. All you need's a week in Jamaica with some new girlfriend. You know, lots of dancing. Vertically, horizontally, whatever." "No thanks." Ellison's voice grew soft, determined. "All I really want's to be left alone so I can do my work without worrying about money all the time." "Then you better do something, pal, or you're gonna fall apart." Paul gave him a goodbye punch on the shoulder and left. Ellison remained where he was. He looked down at his hands and flexed his aching fingers. He knew he had it in him to be a good surgeon. No, he was already good. He knew he could be great. His hands told the tale. Where had they come from--the long, strong fingers, the prominent veins, the span so broad that, had he been a pianist, he could have played Rachmaninoff? Scrubbed with surgical soap and a brush several times a day, his hands were softer than most women's, and so sensitive that with his fingertips he could read the words engraved on a coin the way a blind man can read braille. It wasn't just his hands. He had the brains too. Hands and brains. And body, too, he knew. Handsome Todd Ellison, towering over most men with an agile grace, formerly the fastest university half-miler in America, promising young physician. Brilliant future, and everyone said he already had it made. Then why was he so dissatisfied? Was he just exhausted? Or was it a deeper discontent that was rising up, nagging at him, now that the last ties to his marriage were all but broken? He felt a need for something different for a while, a change of pace. When his reflections got to the kernel of what was bothering him, he knew a taste for meaningful adventure ran strong. After so many years of hard work and training, he had arrived only to find himself bored, gnawed at by a desire for even more intensity. He liked Paul and trusted him, but not enough to tell him about his real dreams, the dreams he'd always had of going to work in Africa or India, like Albert Schweitzer or Mother Teresa, and simply doing good by helping people who cannot help themselves. Not volunteerism forever, but for a little while, a few months, maybe even a year or so. Long enough, anyway, so he could feel he'd done what he'd been born to do. The door creaked open and an elderly, Asian-looking man peeked in. The grandfather of the boy he'd resurrected. Ellison had seen him in the waiting room earlier. "Thank you, doctor," the man said, grasping at his hand. "We have no money, but my grandson—Jesus is his name- -he's my widowed daughter's only son. A good boy..." Ellison heard the hesitance in the old man's voice and knew that he was refusing to believe that his own grandson could be a gang member. "It's okay, sir, really," Ellison replied. "Don't worry about the money." The boy's mother, Emilia Punsalan, peered over her father's shoulder. "Bless you, bless you!" she choked, her face still tearstained. "We'll pray for you every day. Utang na loob...we will owe you forever. You are such a fine and handsome man." *** His one-bedroom, street-level condo was nice enough, Ellison thought as he unlocked his door an hour later, but nothing like the big house in San Francisco‟s Pacific Heights. Vicky and her new boyfriend could look out over the Golden Gate Bridge every day--while his view framed two freeway on-ramps, these days slick with winter rains that made him feel as gloomy as the sky. He hated to admit it, but he still pined for her sometimes, especially when he thought of her in bed with her new man. He scanned the litter on his desk. Unopened bills, unmailed letters, three unwanted copies of his final divorce decree. He grabbed the latest issue of Surgeon's Journal. His only bedtime companion, he thought sourly, undressing and studying his reflection before toppling into bed--Vicki used to say his body was like Michaelangelo's David. Once done with his nightly exercises, as he idly riffled the pages and waited for sleep to come, he caught sight of a quarter-page ad. DOCTORS ABROAD, INC. Projects in Developing Nations One Week to Three-Month Programs The ad included a list of nineteen cities, in alphabetical order from Addis Ababa to Zamboanga City. A to Z. Not three hours earlier, Paul Miller had asked him what he really wanted to do. The Doctors Abroad advertisement reminded him. Zamboanga? Where the hell was that? He fumbled under the bed for his pocket atlas. Zamboanga City. At the tip of the Philippine island of Mindanao, next to Basilan and Borneo, not far from East Timor. "Zamboanga," he said aloud, pleased by a musical rhythm in the word. The middle of nowhere. He tossed the atlas and the journal under the bed, turned over, and went to sleep. *** A month later Ellison celebrated his final alimony payment by taking a night off to clean his apartment. He was gathering up the last load of junk mail--he'd almost forgotten what the top of his desk looked like--when the doorbell rang. Puzzled, he opened the door just as a new BMW convertible with three dim figures in it screeched off into the twilight. He was about to go back inside when he spotted a small cardboard carton, no bigger than a cake of soap, on the doorstep. After a brief hesitation, he picked it up, and was startled by how heavy it was. He set the carton on the glass coffee table and unwrapped it. His breath caught--inside was a small rectangle the size of a deck of cards. It looked like solid gold, but it couldn't be. He picked it up. The exquisite luster was hypnotizing, and the cool softness felt like silk in his hands. He turned it over and saw that the other side was incised with an inch-high letter "A." What was going on? Still holding the small ingot, he went back to the door and peered out. The BMW was back, parked in the street at the end of his walkway. Apprehension stirred in his gut, but then the car began moving and one of the passengers, a young Asian man, waved and gave him a wide, glowing smile. He went back inside. Clearly, the gold--if that's what it was, and if it was, how much was it worth?--was payment for having saved the Punsalan boy. But however much he could use the money, he couldn't keep it. What time was it? Only eight-thirty, not that late. He called the hospital, got the address of the boy's family from one of the nurses, and headed out to his aging Volvo for the drive south into the fog of Daly City, now so populated by Filipinos it was known as "Little Manila." The tiny, weatherbeaten houses and flimsy apartments seemed unlikely homes for gold bars. He walked up three chilly, creaking flights of stairs to the Punsalans' apartment. Jesus, Ellison's patient, answered the door. At first the boy seemed ill at ease, but he relaxed when Ellison gave him a hug. He let Ellison examine his abdomen and pronounce him fit, then darted out into the night to join his friends. "This is where we pray for you, doctor." Her voice matter-of-fact yet heavy with unspoken emotion, Mrs. Punsalan led him to a small altar, decked with candles and foot-high statues of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, that occupied one corner of the cramped but spotlessly clean living room. "Please, you must eat with us." "Why, thank you. Something sure smells good." While she was bringing out the food, a delicious dish of chicken in soy sauce and garlic, her father told Ellison that they shared the cramped apartment with seven other relatives. Ellison felt right at home, probably, he reckoned, because his own ancestors were immigrant Scandinavians, and because he had lived as a youth in tiny houses bordering North Dakota wheat fields, taking care of four younger brothers while his parents worked in town. People had often commented that his ability to feel at home almost anywhere was one of his most outstanding traits. Ellison complimented Mrs. Punsalan on the attractive pictures and artifacts from the home islands and made other polite small talk until the dishes had been cleared and the two men were drinking thick, strong coffee. Then he reached into his pocket and laid the gold bar on the table with a gesture of finality. "I can't accept this, so I came to return it." Mr. Punsalan eyed the gold with a bewilderment Ellison sensed was sincere. "It didn't come from us, doctor. All we have is a little gold jewelry." He picked it up and weighed it in his wrinkled palm. "It's very valuable." "How valuable?" The old man pondered. "About a kilo...perhaps $12,000." Ellison was astounded. Almost in spite of himself, he reached for the small, gleaming rectangle again, wanting to feel the near-liquid smoothness against his fingers again. No, if he'd ever seen ill-gotten gains, this had to be it. He set the gold on the table. "Then perhaps it came from Jesus's friends. But either way, I can't keep it." Again the old man bridled at the reference to his grandson's activities. "No, I understand that, doctor," he said in a hesitant voice. "But there's so much gold in the Philippines, in the mountains, in the rivers, treasures buried everywhere under the ground. Perhaps it came from there in payment." "What do you mean?" The grandfather glanced at Ellison and shame tinged his face. "They say that sometimes bad boys steal cars here and send the parts to Manila, and then the cars get put together again there. Chop-chop cars, they call them. Maybe that's how they got the gold." Poor old man, Ellison thought, and wondered when Jesus Punsalan would wind up at Parnassus Heights Hospital again. "I don't know anything about gold." "Some people say we'd be the richest country on earth if only we could find everything the Japanese buried in the islands during the war." He held the ingot close to his faded eyes. "This could even be from the Yamashita treasure." "The what?" "The Yamashita Gold. The Japanese general who captured the Philippines. MacArthur hanged him. But they say he buried gold all over the islands. Sometimes people find things, but no one ever tells where they found them." "Buried treasure?" "Yes, doctorrrr..." He rolled the r's. "Everyone in Asia knows the Yamashita legend." "It's true," nodded Jesus's mother. "Men dig more holes in the Philippines than anywhere on earth. "Cebu, Zamboanga, Manila...that's our place, Manila." Zamboanga. Doctors Abroad. It was like a bell ringing in Ellison's mind. "Zamboanga City, on Mindanao?" "Yes, doctorrr." They both sat staring at the small, gleaming chunk of bullion until Mrs. Punsalan tried to pour them more coffee. Ellison shook hands with each of them as he stood. Convinced they had been honest, Ellison said, "I'd love to hear more, but I must go." "Please come back, doctor," Mrs. Punsalan urged. "Better yet--you should visit our country. It's so beautiful." "And our relatives could host you," the old man put in. "Thank you," Ellison replied, smiling. "Maybe someday I will." When he touched the gold once more before departing, he experienced the strangest feeling, as if it were gluing itself to his hand. He wanted to keep it but knew he should not. Conscience won. As he clattered down the stairs to his car, he was surprised by the regret he felt at having left the gold behind. Amazing how exciting it was to hold a piece of metal worth more than ten thousand dollars. But what was the source of the excitement? It wasn't simple greed, he mused, because with hard work he could make more money as a surgeon. And it wasn't the myth of an unexpected, unearned fortune like a lottery winner. No, gold carried the mystery of adventure and the unknown; and as much as he appreciated his life as it was, the lure of adventure had always been a siren call. *** The next day, Ellison met his ex-wife for the farewell lunch they'd promised each other on the day she'd asked for the divorce, before their lawyers had smelled money and fostered outright war. Even the fighting was water under the bridge now. He'd done his grieving for the good things that had been lost and now felt relief for the end of the bad. Seeing their perfect love turn sour had horrified them both. As they'd grown estranged, they tried to make it work, but their fundamental differences had driven them further apart. Vicky had wanted to pull in, Ellison had wanted to reach out to life. She had wanted peace; he had felt driven by an urge to seek challenges. In his heart he knew that surgery was the seductive mistress that had lured him away. He had been incapable of balancing his career and his marriage. So when Vicky had finally turned to another man for the intimacy and attention she'd needed, it had hurt but he had understood. They were finally even, he thought. She had supported him through his residency. Now, with his help, she had completed her training and licensing as a clinical psychologist. "What next, Todd?" she asked as she got up to leave. "I can't see you putting up with the emergency-room routine for much longer." He pulled out the Doctors Abroad advertisement and handed it to her. She scanned the list of exotic cities and laughed. "You always were a stimulus seeker!" "Well, you were the one who used to call me a comet accelerating toward an unknown sun." "All I knew was, I wasn't your center of gravity," she said, with more wistfulness in her eyes than he'd ever seen. Whenever they saw each other, the mutual attraction was still there. She reached for his hand, tracing the outline of his hand on the white tablecloth. "I miss you, Todd, you crazy man." Her touch, tentative and longing, had a wonderful familiarity. "Same here." In that moment Ellison knew that Vicky would come with him if he asked. But the wistfulness was too late, by more than two years. He breathed with his fantasy of reconciliation, reliving their once great times together, then let the moment pass in silence. They both pulled back and sat up straight, Vicky adjusting her napkin and Todd giving her a friendly smile. "So you're going?" Her tone told him she was disappointed but accepted that they were closing the final curtain on their drama. Ellison sensed relief as the conversation changed to a businesslike level--best, he thought, for both of them. "I can break away from Parnassus for three weeks. Maximum." "And when you get back?" "You remember Jack Gibson? The surgeon who climbed Mt. Everest in his spare time?" "He was one of your mentors." "He had a coronary four months ago. I'm buying his practice." "For sure?" Ellison nodded, thinking of the ten page contract. "Too bad for him, but a great opportunity for you. You always said he had the best practice in town." She summoned a smile and ran her fingers through her blonde hair. "So, Doctor Abroad, where are you going adventuring before you get back in harness? They're like names out of storybooks." To his surprise, Ellison suddenly recalled the soft, cool, heavy feel of the bullion in his hand. "Zamboanga." "The end of the alphabet!" she laughed. "Maybe the ends of the earth, too." Miranda Presidential Palace, Manila, Philippines Ellison stopped in the doorway of the opulent teak and mother-of-pearl reception hall in Malacanang Palace, it's soccer field sized dance floor packed with couples swirling to a Viennese waltz. Jetlagged by his seventeen-hour flight and unsure what day it was after crossing the International Date Line, he would have chosen a quiet night in his luxurious hotel room over a "duty dance" anytime. But he hadn't had a choice. Everyone on the Doctors Abroad team had been invited to the Presidential Ball to honor the civic organizations of Zamboanga City, whose citizens had worked long and hard to promote peace in their city, torn by four hundred years of Muslim-Christian conflict. After the brutal kidnapping of two dozen European SCUBA divers from a nearby resort in Malaysia, the Philippine Army had cracked down on the rebellious followers of Mohammed. The kidnappers responded by shipping two men‟s heads and the breasts of three captive women to the Army. After several months of ferocious, large-scale fighting, cooler heads prevailed and a cessation of hostilities brought peace. Overjoyed by prospects of future tranquility, Muslims and Christians alike had flown the five hundred miles from Zamboanga to Manila to celebrate their achievements with the Philippine President, Maria R. Legaspi. Ellison, who'd ended his last shift at Parnassus only hours before heading for San Francisco International Airport, was struck by the luxury that surrounded him. He couldn't help contrasting the long reception line of impeccably dressed men and women with the untidy queues of shabby patients he'd gotten used to seeing night after night in the jammed emergency room. He was still reeling from his first impressions of Manila. On the hour-long drive from the airport to his hotel, he'd seen shocking poverty mingled with opulence. Six-year-old boys begging at the windows of Mercedes-Benz sedans in choking traffic...gleaming skyscrapers rearing up next to pitiful shacks cobbled together out of driftwood and corrugated steel...sleek women in silk skirts and high heels strolling hand-in-hand, picking their way unnoticingly through hordes of deformed beggars, some so crippled that they could move only by sliding themselves along the sidewalk on pieces of cardboard...all the contrasts and contradictions of the Third World, even though the economy of the Philippines was now the fastest- growing in the region. People surged everywhere--dozens eating at open-air stalls, twenty here, thirty there perched on the tops of buses. He leaned forward to breathe in the vibrancy and excitement of the twelve million souls of the metropolis, and was glad he had come. He adjusted the cummerbund of the rented tuxedo hurriedly supplied by his hotel and gazed again at the two thousand "beautiful people" milling about the vast Presidential Hall. "Welcome to almost-paradise, doctor." Ellison looked sideways, then down at the speaker, who was so short that the top of his head barely reached Ellison's armpit. "Major Mark Beecham, US Army Special Operations," the man continued, extending his hand, his smiling face eerily like a miniature Brad Pitt. He was wearing a well-cut starched dress uniform accented with elevator-heeled ostrich cowboy boots, which despite his best efforts to stand tall, still left him shorter than most women. "I'm currently attached to the Philippine Army to help pacify"-- a broad, wicked grin--"the Moros around Zamboanga." Ellison knew from the scanty research time he'd put in before leaving San Francisco that the Moros were the Muslim minority in the Philippines. They had originally sailed to Mindanao via Indonesia and had never really been conquered since the Spaniards arrived in 1521. He remembered how startled he'd been to realize that Mindanao was as big as England. "They told us that Zamboanga City's safe." "You'll be okay, pardner. I'll be keepin' an eye on you-all." "I didn't know we'd left troops after the bases closed in '91." Beecham darted a keen glance at him. "Yeah. I've been down there four years now. Part of the Visiting Forces Agreement. Training search-and-destroy squads." Search and destroy, Ellison thought. Sounded too much like the old language of the Vietnam War for him, but he couldn't seem to come up with an appropriate reply. Better to change the subject. He gestured around the glittering crowd. "Tell me, Major--" "Mark, please." "Okay. Am I imagining it, or is this room filled with incredibly beautiful women?" "Phenomenal, ain't it?" Beecham gave a mock groan. "If it wasn't for the girls, I'd have gotten myself reassigned back home to Texas a long time ago. But if you're looking for beautiful girls, the Philippines is really the place. And they're friendly too, if you know what I mean--" A cluster of photographers' flashbulbs popped and Ellison spotted the object of their attention--a young woman in a slender, clinging white gown whose modest neckline was belied by a high-slit hem that revealed long, slender legs and fragile ankles. As she turned and made a laughing comment to a man standing near her, Ellison saw that the back of the gown was as daring as the front was demure--her long, dark-brown hair fell almost to her waist, where the white material was cut into a low curve that accentuated her bare, narrow, achingly delicate spine. Ellison was seized by the desire to join the throng of admirers and journalists. He craned to get a better look at her face. Beecham nudged him. "But you can just forget about that one, doc," he drawled. “She is incredible!” Ellison felt his heart start to pound as she came toward him, an excited entourage following her. Dark, almond-shaped eyes sparkled with confident happiness, with a tiny mole on her right cheek that only heightened their brilliance. She passed him, flashed him a friendly but impersonal smile, and was swept away. "Who is she?" he asked Beecham. "Miranda Santiago." Ellison kept staring at her. He took an involuntary step toward her, but stopped as a tall, well-built man in a military uniform led her to the dance floor. Ellison studied him. Only an inch or two shorter than Ellison's own six-foot-four, but at least ten years older judging by the steaks of iron gray in the luxuriant black hair. "Our Miranda," Beecham continued. "Miss Philippines a few years ago, and placed second in Miss Globe. Twenty- three. Comes from one of the best families in the country. Eat your heart out--she ain't gonna give you the time of day." "Is that her husband?" "Nah. But from what I hear he'd like to be. That's Ali Ali. Chief of Police in Zamboanga. One of the 'good' Muslims...I mean the kind who believes that the Moros and Christians can live together instead of spending four hundred more years fighting it out for control. He's maxed out with wives--has four already, but they say he'd divorce 'em all if he could get her." Beecham studied Miranda. "What a piece!" he whistled. "Every rich young stud in the Philippines is after her, but no one's made it yet. They say she's still a virgin." He lowered his voice. "You know what that means." Without waiting for Ellison's reply, he went on, "Like violets, that's how hers is. Think what that'd be like--" Ellison took a distancing step away from Beecham. He liked the strutting little bantam-cock major, but the man clearly had his crude side. Ali Ali was leading Miranda through a tango. She swooped through the sensuous reverse turn, then, as if sensing the energy emanating from him halfway across the huge ballroom, she turned and gazed straight at Ellison. For an eternal instant, her dark-brown eyes smiled into his Nordic-blue ones. He couldn't keep from grinning at her. Her lips parted in a radiant smile, then Ali Ali swept her away. Ellison sucked in his breath. Moments later the tango finished with a sudden flourish, and as Ali Ali lowered her in the final dip, his eyes met Ellison's. Even across the room, they burned into his, as if Ali Ali were a tiger guarding his mate. Ellison averted his gaze and turned back to Beecham. "Does she live in Manila?" "Nope." Beecham patted him on the arm. "The family's in Zamboanga. But like I say, forget her. Besides, when you get to Zamboanga I'll introduce you to Mr. Reno. He's got a thousand pretty girls working for him." He turned and let out a subdued war-whoop. "Eduardo! Doc, meet Eduardo, my compadre." Dashing and debonaire in his white dinner jacket, Eduardo was tall for a Filipino, certainly over six feet, and his lean litheness made him look even taller. Ellison thought that they were about the same age, but Eduardo's neat, slicked-back hair and almost too-perfect features made him look like a movie star compared to Ellison's rougher-hewn surfer-next-door look. Nor did Eduardo lack a star's assurance and grace, born of complete self- confidence. He unleashed a warm smile at Ellison and gestured at his companion, an elderly Japanese man wearing a custom- tailored business suit of Italian silk. "Dr. Ellison, I'd like you to meet my partner, Iwao Matsumoto, from Tokyo." Matsumoto-san bowed slightly and Ellison, who had visited Tokyo for a medical conference, was careful to bow a bit deeper than the older man to indicate his respect. He saw the surprise in Matsumoto-san's dark eyes and couldn't help smiling. "Everyone in Zamboanga's happy about the medical team," Eduardo began. "You're going to be operating on kids with harelips, right?" "Harelips or cleft palates." "And all for free," Beecham put in. He raised his glass. "Here's to you, doc! And the rest of the team." Ellison shrugged, embarrassed. "So--Eduardo's like one of those soldiers of fortune," Beecham continued, oblivious. "Always digging for gold. Like a man possessed." "Not always, just since I saw those gold bars dug up near Manila a few years back," Eduardo laughed, showing perfectly white teeth. "Cambodia Five Star--that's how they were marked. Once you hold something like that in your hand, you're like a dog digging for an old bone. You can't help it." "I know!" Ellison exclaimed. How strange to have met a gold-hunter just hours after arriving. "Some Filipinos in San Francisco gave me part of a gold bar as payment last month." Eduardo looked incredulous. "A piece of a bar," Ellison went on. "Had an 'A' marked on it, that's all I know." Eduardo began peppering Ellison with questions about the bar--what it had looked like, what Ellison had done with it, asking excitedly for more details. Eventually Matsumoto-san joined into the conversation with an intensity that made Ellison suspect he was with not one gold-hunter, but two. Finally Eduardo gave Ellison a comradely pat on the shoulder and pronounced, "That was part of the Yamashita Treasure! Had to have been!" "No offense, but how can you be so sure? It could've come from anywhere. Alaska or California, even. In fact, that'd be a lot more likely than some mythical treasure--" "Mythical!" Eduardo protested. "The Yamashita gold's out there! No doubt about it--" Eduardo was interrupted by a presidential aide who murmured in his ear. "Gotta go," he announced, gesturing for Matsumoto-san to accompany him. "See you in Zamboanga." "Count on it," Ellison smiled. After they had melted into the crowd, he mused aloud, "Matsumoto-san's a strange bird." Beecham shined the toes of his cowboy boots against the back of his creased trousers before speaking. "Inscrutable type, you know. Hunting for gold's the only thing he seems to give a shit about." Ellison was more than ready to start talking gold again, but then he caught sight of Miranda across the room and fell silent. "I mean, Eduardo's the same way, but he's a great guy," Beecham continued, until he noticed Ellison's lack of attention and exclaimed, "Oh, forget it!" giving Ellison a mocking shove in her direction. But by the time Ellison made his way across the crowded ballroom, she had disappeared. If he hadn't seen Ali Ali circulating among the crowd, he would have assumed, in spite of Beecham's theories about her virginity, that the two of them had left together--and felt riven with jealousy. *** Matsumoto-san strolled through the palace gardens chain- smoking and admiring the rare orchids while he waited for his driver to bring the Mercedes 600SEL to the carriage entrance. Eduardo's talk of the gold had disturbed him, though no one could have detected the depth of his agitation from the unreadable expression on his aging face. And the young American doctor's unwanted intrusion had only heightened his vague discomfort. He had hurried to the lavatory to wash after shaking hands, as he always did whenever he touched an American. Based on a lifetime of his own efforts, Matsumoto-san knew enough about Eduardo and his treasure hunting to take it seriously. He had already ordered forty of his own best hitmen--Yamaguchi Gumi all, the most feared sect of the Yakuza--to slip into Zamboanga in the next few days. He wanted them nearby in case Eduardo did find the gold, which Matsumoto-san planned to seize for himself. No, not for himself. For Japan. With the gold, Japan would throw off the yoke of the Americans once and for all. As he slid into the back seat of his limousine, Matsumoto-san allowed himself a thin smile. A second passenger, dimly illuminated by the courtesy lights, was waiting for him. "Jacobius--it was good of you to meet with me on such short notice." He rolled up the window between the back seat and the driver. "And how was it in China? Our business went well, I trust?" Jacobius, a wiry, nondescript Chinese in his mid- fifties-- dark glasses on despite the Manila night--stubbed out a Marlboro, his raspy voice heavily accented. "Did a good job for you, but China not good. Take shower, water brown. No karaoke bars. Except in Hong Kong, girls smell bad. Your fax say, 'big business here', so"--he extended his hands toward Matsumoto-san with a theatrical gesture of submission--"here I am." Jacobius often made him laugh, one reason he'd kept Jacobius around for twenty years. "Our friend Reno wants you to help him move some amphetamines." True enough, but the amphetamine deal was also a convenient cover. Matsumoto-san still wanted to conceal his real reason for traveling to Zamboanga. "You in the deal too?" "In a limited way." Discussion of the "good" Jacobius had done for him in China would have to await complete privacy, but Matsumoto- san felt his inner agitation ratchet down a notch. He was on the verge of accomplishing the goal that had ruled his life for almost fifty years, ever since the day of Yamashita's death. All he lacked was his general's gold-- plus some good luck, to reduce the risk of failure. He had considered every angle. He would take over Japan. He measured the tension he was still feeling and knew that sex would relieve him. At his age, sadism had become the only aphrodisiac that never failed him. No, he corrected himself. It had always been that way for him. Matsumoto-san shifted his stocky body and turned to gaze out the window at the neon-lit streets. "All the hookers will be out by now." "Already have beautiful friend for you." "Thanks, but no. Tonight I need someone who won't be missed." *** Zamboanga Ellison dragged himself out of his hotel bed well before dawn the next morning to join the rest of the surgical team for the flight from Manila to Zamboanga City. Ever since a fortune teller had told him he would die falling from an airplane, Ellison had been wary of flying, especially when it came to antiquated jets braving the turbulent skies of the Philippines. But as the aging plane swept into Zamboanga over miles of coconut groves and the turquoise Sulu Sea, even the grinding of the plane's obsolete hydraulics couldn't dampen his excitement. Unlike Manila's air-conditioned terminal, the Zamboanga airport stood open to the air. Ellison followed the other surgeons and nurses down the stairs and into the wet, blast-furnace heat of the tropical sun. "Ten seconds and I already need a shower," he said to no one in particular. "Did you notice--when we flew in?" one doctor muttered. "Tanks everywhere. It looked like a war zone down there." Ellison hadn't noticed, but as he turned to reply he saw Beecham break out from behind a security fence and run toward them, clutching his cowboy hat. "Into the van!" he shouted. "Hurry!" As the group raced toward the van, two choppers spooled off the runway and banked away, scattering them with clouds of sand. "What's going on?" Ellison said, as he saw columns of smoke rising in the direction where the choppers were headed. Before Beecham could answer, two tremendous explosions blasted shock waves through his chest, sending his heart racing and throwing his nervous system into overdrive. Around him, the crowd broke into a stampede, dashing for transportation or shelter. Striding against the frightened herd, a tall, slender, white linen dressed man hurried toward them. Eduardo. "Not the best way to meet you again," Eduardo grinned, holding out his hand. It was as steady and dry as it had been when they'd met the previous night. "But everything will settle down again before long. The Moros blew up five banks about an hour ago--the Army already has them trapped at the harbor." Ellison took courage from Eduardo's equanimity. "You don't seem worried--should we be?" Beecham took firm hold of Ellison's arm. "Come on, into the van." As Ellison obeyed, Beecham added, "Nothing scares my compadre. Last year, a Zamboanga fishing boat went down in the harbor. Eduardo jumped in and saved two kids from the sharks." He flung a comradely arm around his friend. "The bastards ate the third one, but still." Eduardo shoved him away and laughed. "Yes, but you're wrong if you think I wasn't scared. Sharks are the worst." As the van set off for the hospital, Ellison thought about Beecham's story. So, he thought, Eduardo's movie-star looks were only skin-deep, and that a man of substance lived inside. He glanced at Eduardo with heightened respect, briefly wondering whether he would have dived in. Beecham took advantage of the twenty-minute ride to fill in the medical team on the situation in Zamboanga. "A Muslim leader known only as "The Haji" has recruited a 30,000-man Moro separatist army based on Basilan Island, just ten miles across the strait. If you didn‟t know, a „Haji‟ is someone who has been to Mecca. There! You can see Basilan right now." Ellison followed Beecham's pointing finger to a large island looming close enough to see flashes of light, probably reflections coming from tin roofs in some dusty villages. "That's where they live," Beecham said. "Too strong to be overrun by the Philippine Army but too weak to seize Mindanao itself, The Haji and his men refuse to give up their war for Muslim rule. He's been leading periodic raids on Zamboanga--stealing, creating unrest, basically waging a war of attrition on the region's morale. Ellison recognized a drilled precision in the soldier's reporting, no doubt from a career giving briefings. "Go on, Major Beecham, all of us want to know what is really going on here." "It's gettin' dicey, pardner, but like my daddy always says, 'When you give a lesson in meanness to a critter or a person, don't be surprised if they learn their lesson.' Last month, The Haji's men kidnapped the son of a major landowner, Aguilar Bello, a kid who was home from Princeton for a few weeks. The father followed the kidnappers' every demand. Even traveled to Basilan with the ransom, carrying a hundred thousand in hundred dollar bills. The Haji's men led him to his son--crammed into a tiny bamboo cage and smeared with his own shit.” "Did they get away?" a nurse asked. "No. After The Haji took the money, he ordered his men to fire. The son died, the father survived." "Everyone believes that The Haji spared the father just so he could tell the tale," Eduardo added. "The boy was my second cousin. It's a terrible story." Beecham nodded. "Ever since, even the most peace- loving Christians have been clamoring for vengeance against the Moros. "He wears a patch over one eye," Eduardo said. "He claims that's the eye he sees Allah with." "Nobody knows who he really is," Beecham growled. "He comes and goes like Zorro. Drives me crazy--I've got all the intelligence assets I can use, and more, and I can't track him down. But if I ever do..." He sliced his hand across his throat. "The good Moros like Ali Ali want to live in peace with the Christians," Eduardo went on. "But the Haji's men- -they believe they'll go to heaven on a white horse if they die fighting Christians." The city center looked like television coverage of Balkan war. Buildings were still blazing from the Moros' attack. When Ellison smelled the sickly barbecue stench of scorched flesh from the dozens of corpses littering the main street, his stomach churned. He hadn't seen direct violence close-up--not even in the emergency room. Not on this scale. They were about to turn into the coastal road to the hospital when Ellison noticed three heavily-armed men race into the street thirty feet ahead of them. To his horror, the leader began to train his pistol on the van. "Moros! Get Down!" Beecham screamed, pushing Ellison's head down fast, but not fast enough to keep glass from shattering over him. A hail of bullets ripped through the windshield, sending the van into a fishtailing skid. One gunman began to fire at bystanders to cover his partners as they raced across the road. "Anyone hit?" Ellison yelled, astonished that everyone seemed unhurt. He could still see the three men out of the corner of his eye, who suddenly seemed less confident in their actions, now fleeing and looking in terror at a jeep racing toward them. Smoke and flame belched from the barrel of heavy caliber machine gun mounted on the jeep's rear platform. The Moros were blown backward, collapsed, and fell--one writhing in pain, the other two completely still. The attack jeep screeched to a halt in the path of their van and a tall, heavy-set man got out of the passenger's seat. His unusually long arms and muscular build gave him a slightly apelike appearance. Ellison spotted the rows of ribbons on his uniform just as Beecham whispered, "General Fidel Emperador." The general gave Eduardo a gruff greeting and stuck his head into the van. His underslung jaw reinforced his simian appearance but his eyes gleamed with intelligence. "These the doctors?" "Just in time for all the excitement," Eduardo replied. "Do you want me to look at the one who is still alive?" Ellison asked, climbing down from the van and trying to mask the tremor in his voice. He could see the wounded was a young man with colorful leggings wrapped tight around his ankles, a rakish bandana covering his head. "It's up to you," Emperador grumbled. Ellison moved quickly toward the fallen Moro, with Eduardo close behind. In seconds they were beside him. "Looks bad," Ellison said to Eduardo. The man looked fatally injured, unable to move. "Heavy caliber bullet to the chest." As Ellison was about to apply pressure to the sucking chest wound, the Moro roused from feigned unconsciousness. To Ellison's horror, in the same move the fighter raised his pistol and fired a round that missed Eduardo's head only by inches. While Eduardo tried to throw himself aside, the Moro, with the last of his strength, jammed the barrel into Eduardo's belly for what would be a killing shot. Just in time, Ellison slapped the Moro's arm away so that the bullet ricocheted off a nearby building. Eduardo dived on the Moro's outstretched arm and wrestled the weapon away from him, then looked at Ellison with appreciation and surprise on his face. "Thanks, doc. I owe you one." "Just help me get him to an ambulance." "Don't bother." Emperador growled, approaching them while nodding to a nearby soldier. On Emperador's command, the soldier straddled the fallen Moro and fired a long burst from his automatic weapon, blowing one of the Moro's arms away from his torso and ripping his chest to shreds. When the firing finally stopped, little wisps of smoke played from dozens of bullet holes. "My God!" Ellison shouted, protesting. "Fuck him," Emperador said. "But that wasn't necessary." "Look, doc, we can't have anyone coming into our city and killing innocent civilians like this asshole did." "Sure, but..." "Don't worry, doctor. They weren't after you." Emperador kicked the body so it rolled face down. "We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, Doctor T," said Beecham, coining a nickname for Ellison. "These guys didn't know anything about you." "Right," Eduardo agreed. "Your travel route wasn't decided until I picked you up." "Anyway, welcome to Zamboanga. Stay away from the beaches for a few hours," Emperador said, and turned back to his jeep. Before they reached the hospital, their van was halted in a traffic jam caused by a line of armored personnel carriers grinding past them like beetles on their way to a kill. "They've got 'em trapped up the National Highway, Doctor T. Probably up on six mile beach." "The town of Recodo," Eduardo added. "A Moro enclave." The doctors and nurses on the team stared silently out the windows at the smoldering cars and collapsed building, hit by rocket fire in the battle between the huge Moro squad and the legions of the Southern Command. "Emperador commands them all," Beecham said. Outside the van, sporadic gunfire erupted as the army silenced pockets of resistance. But Ellison, despite his inexperience in warfare, could see that the Southern Command's massive firepower spelled certain doom for the rebels. When a nurse in one of the back seats said, "Maybe we should go back to Manila until this fighting is over," subdued cheers broke out throughout the van. But Eduardo waved aside their fear. "Relax!" he laughed. "By tomorrow Zamboanga will be the Pearl of the Orient again. The City of Flowers." In one sense, Eduardo was right, Ellison thought. Even the devastation of the attack couldn't mar Zamboanga's beauty, especially in the upper-class residential neighborhoods, untouched by the fighting. The crystal-clear Sulu Sea wrapping around the peninsula cradled a city that reminded him of Charleston or French Quarter New Orleans, with white-columned mansions and manicured lawns that led down to jetties where sailboats awaited their skippers. When they reached the hospital at last, Ellison and the rest of the team met their Filipino colleagues and set to work almost immediately. Excited that he had finally reached his destination, Ellison was startled by the long line of children--more than two hundred of them--lined up with their families on the hospital's expansive lawn. With so many cleft lips gathered in one place, it created the illusion that another race had set up camp. As he gazed at them, babies waiting so quietly with a patience far beyond their years, he was at one level able to relate to them as simply patients who suffered from a medical problem that needed repair--no different from any other medical problem, really. But at another level deep within himself he felt the first stirrings of a sadness that only grew and deepened as the day wore on. The dark eyes of the afflicted children held so much pain. He could read in their sad gazes that they were shunned at school, starved of kisses and affection at home. Every culture uses ugly masks to frighten their enemies, he thought with an involuntary shudder. These children's faces would strike terror in all but the most stalwart hearts. Only the luckiest of them could boast of having even a single friend. Their families were so poor that to send their afflicted child to Manila for surgery might mean starvation for a brother or sister. For them, the Doctors Abroad project was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, a literal miracle. What was the feeling darkening his excitement? He felt as if he too were bearing the immense weight of their suffering. It was the same sadness he had known during his year on the cancer ward, where he had learned to carry on, no matter what. Afterward he had resolved to follow his grandfather's advice, "Always leave the world a better place." "Can I start?" Ellison asked, ready to begin his first case. The anesthesiologist peered over the surgical drapes and nodded, "She's sound asleep. That's one ugly cleft there, Todd. Isn't it too wide to close?" Ellison wondered himself; but if he didn't try, the girl might never have another chance. He knew that once the cutting began, there could be no turning back. The time to cancel the case was now. He took a deep breath and used his scalpel to cut a groove alongside her nose that went through the skin to the facial bones. With her nose hanging free on that side, he placed the points of his scissors underneath her upper lip, in the groove where the gums join the inside of the cheek, and forced the scissors underneath her facial muscles all the way to just below the eyeball. After ten minutes he had her entire face stripped away from the bones on that side. Forcing aside the image of an Aztec priest skinning alive a sacrificial victim, he took stock of the situation and exhaled a sigh of relief. "I've got a big enough flap to rotate and close the cleft. Good." It took seventy or eighty tiny stitches over the next hour--each one placed perfectly despite the blood obscuring clear view--to close the cleft so that his patient had a normal shape to her upper lip. When the last bandage was in place, a chorus of cheers filled the operating room. "Great job, team!" Late in the afternoon, after three more operations, Ellison walked into the pediatric ward to change his patients' dressings. He studied his first patient, a four-year-old girl named Genevieve who was still sleeping off the last of the anesthetic. A tiny line of stitches had closed the gaping hole where her upper lip should have been. After the swelling went down, the scar would be almost invisible, leaving her with a perfect face. Joy flooded into him. in less than two hours, he had been able to give her a new life, one full of development and love. To him, Genevieve was the most beautiful child on earth. Feeling embarrassed that he was overcome by emotion, he sat down at a nearby desk and felt the tears come at last. He wept silently--with happiness for these children and with sadness for all the others who were not present, with thankfulness that he had the ability to help and with a cosmic despair that such suffering could be visited on innocents. He felt a gentle, comforting hand on his shoulder and looked up. Miranda. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. Her face was almost Spanish, her happy eyes with that faint almond-shaped curve. Her nose was narrow and sculpted, a European shape above lips that made Ellison want to kiss her. Their eyes met again, his full of tears, hers full of compassion, as if she understood everything he was feeling. She held out her hand. "Miranda Santiago, doctor." Her English held the slightest hint of a sweet-sounding accent. "I came to observe the project, and to see if I could help." Her hand was warm, velvet-soft, tiny in his large, sensitive grasp. "Todd Ellison. I saw you last night at the gala." He tried to force a smile. "I guess I just got overwhelmed by all this." "Yes," she replied sadly. "So much suffering, and they're all so young." Something in her expression told him she remembered him but she said only, "Here in the Philippines we say that when you die and meet Saint Peter at the gate of heaven, he will ask you, 'What have you done for the least of God's people?'" Her lips parted in her brilliant smile as she doffed her silk jacket and rolled up the sleeves of her ivory-silk blouse. "What you're doing today will give you an answer when your time comes, Doctor Ellison. Here, let me help." Ellison watched her smooth the black hair of the little four-year-old, who calmed instantly at Miranda's touch. A mother's touch, he thought. While he stripped the gauze away from the stitches, Miranda murmured words in a dialect he could not understand, but he heard the music in her voice. After he changed Genevieve's dressings, they moved on to his next patient, then another, their hands sometimes brushing against each other as they made small talk while they worked. For Ellison, the minutes flashed by with unforgettable intensity, ended by an unwelcome intrusion. Loud footsteps echoed in the tiled corridor. A moment later, Ali Ali burst into the room. When he saw Ellison, his eyes widened in recognition, the way a detective measures a suspect. "The Governor's waiting," he told Miranda. She nodded silently, blew a kiss to the ward of children, and, with a backward glance like a benediction for Ellison, moved down the corridor behind Ali. But her presence lingered like perfume and, in what he knew was a romantic fantasy, he still felt her touch searing his skin after she was gone. The Ultra Club Zamboanga City Eduardo leaned across the table at the Ultra Club and tugged at Ellison's sleeve. "My sister thinks you're handsome!" "What?" Ellison, unable to hear him over the driving rock-and-roll medley blaring from the horn-heavy eight- piece band on the nightclub stage, cupped his hand over his ear. He must have misunderstood. Eduardo leaned closer and shouted, "She thinks you're handsome! My sister--Miranda! You know, she helped you at the hospital yesterday!" Ellison felt like a fool. How could he have failed to notice the resemblance? The same coloring, the same fine features. "Yeah." Eduardo was obviously enjoying his embarrassment. "She thinks you're cute." He hugged the two young women nestled on either side of him. "Is she right, girls?" The two twittered their agreement and gave Ellison dazzling smiles. After a final blare of trumpets and drum rolls, the musicians--a top group from Manila--put down their instruments. Ellison, not sure what to say next, glanced helplessly around for help from Beecham but realized he wouldn't get any--the major was watching one of the club's dozens of beautiful "dance instructors" lead a tired- looking Malaysian businessman from the spacious marble floor. Ellison reflected that whoever "Reno," the club owner, was, he apparently paid his "girls" well to make the men look as if they knew what they were doing. Across from Ellison, Matsumoto-san was deep in a low- voiced conversation with a middle-aged, chain-smoking Chinese man from Kuala Lumpur whom Eduardo had introduced as Jacobius. Eduardo whispered to the two young women, who rose obediently and left the table. "Yeah, my little sister," Eduardo teased, giving Ellison a sly glance. "Who would've thought her greatest talent would turn out to be running the hacienda?" "Hey, Reno!" Beecham called out suddenly. Ellison followed his gaze and saw a grossly obese Caucasian man at the elaborate buffet table piling his plate with grilled salmon and barbecued pork ribs. As he waddled toward their table, Ellison felt simultaneous revulsion and pity. The man was wheezing from the simple effort of walking a dozen steps. He set down the plate, licked his fingers, and stuck out a huge paw in Ellison's direction. "Tim Callahan. Good to meet you--" "But everyone calls him Reno," Beecham interrupted. "And, man, is he one tough hombre at poker." "Welcome to the Ultra Club, doctor." Reno's pig eyes sparkled deep in folds of fat. "Have a few drinks, listen to the music, watch the show. For you, everything's on the house." "I was telling Todd how Miranda's been running the place now that Daddy spends all his time trying to convert every stray in the province to his Protestant church. She's doing a better job than any man's ever done--" Ellison couldn't resist. "And you get to dig for gold." But he was having trouble thinking about gold. He wanted to hear about Miranda. The band had started up again, a Latin set; and a dozen couples were dancing to the sultry rhythms of the cha-cha. When the music segued into a mambo, a wave of loneliness swept over him. His glance traveled from one dance instructor to the next as their skirts swirled high around their long, tanned legs. He remembered the fleeting moments at the hospital when his hand had brushed Miranda's, and he wondered what it would be like to dance with her. "--digging so close to the hacienda--" Eduardo's cheerful voice interrupted his reverie. "We're going to break into the vault in a day or two. I'm sure of it." Beecham shook his head. "I can't believe it's just been sitting there like that for sixty years." Ellison smiled at Eduardo's enthusiasm. Miranda's brother was an upperclassman in the fraternity of the gold- obsessed, while Ellison himself was just a pledge. He wondered whether Miranda belonged, too-- "Eduardo," he asked abruptly. "Let me come along. To the dig." Eduardo's face went still. His eyes narrowed, taking Ellison's measure, then he exchanged a long glance with Matsumoto-san. Ellison could read nothing in the Japanese businessman's flat-black eyes, but Eduardo seemed to get some message and turned back to Ellison. "I need to think about it--I mean, we're using dynamite. It can get pretty dangerous--" Ellison was just opening his mouth to protest when Reno snapped his fingers at one of the dance instructors. She hurried over, smilingly took Ellison's hand, and all but dragged him away from the table. When they reached the dance floor she pulled his face down toward hers as if to kiss him. "My name's Yuri," she whispered, brushing his cheek with her lips. The band struck up another cha-cha, and Ellison silently thanked his mother for insisting on weekly dance lessons when he was growing up. He knew that the others wanted to get rid of him for a while and was glad that he wouldn't look like a fool. Yuri checked out his knowledge of the basic rhythm, but soon began dancing and twirling as only a professional dancer could, leading him through new moves with soft hands firmly applied to his shoulders. Her eyes were bright, her face a bit flushed with surprise that he danced so well. When the music slowed she cuddled into him and pushed her hips against his body, sexy and inviting. Perhaps it was her perfume, but for a moment, as he touched the bare skin of her back with his sensitive fingers, he imagined he was holding Miranda. Yes, Reno's Ultra Club was a wonderful place, a five- story pleasure palace full of music and life fueled by an intense undercurrent of sexuality. Yuri was luscious. Still, somehow the whole package only made Ellison more aware of his loneliness, for it had been almost four years since he'd experienced any satisfaction in a relationship with a woman--two years of estrangement from Vicky followed by two years on the meet-and-meat market. He glanced around him at the dance floor, at the close-pressed couples. Love for sale. In all this, he wondered, was there anything for him? He looked over his shoulder. The others were still huddled in intense conversation, obviously discussing him. Yuri kept him out on the dance floor until Reno gave her a barely perceptible sign. Then she led him back by the hand. "We've decided--it's okay!" Eduardo announced with a big smile. Beecham gave him a high five and crowed, "I convinced 'em it couldn't hurt to have a trauma doctor along. Not to mention that you're a good guy." "What can I do?" Eduardo said with a laugh, "He's already saved my life." Matsumoto-san inclined his head politely but unenthusiastically, while Jacobius, apparently uninterested in digging for gold, turned to Ellison. "You do surgery, doctor? You make my dick bigger, heya?" Ellison, who always took medical questions seriously, dutifully launched into a description of the various techniques of penile enlargement--until he saw Beecham and Eduardo grinning at each other and realized that he'd had his leg pulled by a master. But Jacobius reached high to throw a friendly, sinewy arm over Ellison's shoulder. "Now we all good friends. You eat with us." Jacobius was leaning so close that Ellison was sickened by his smell, a blend of stale cigarette smoke, brandy, and unbrushed teeth. He had to operate in the morning, but the chance to spend more time with Eduardo and the others was too good to pass up. "Upstairs, gentlemen," Reno said, lumbering to his feet and motioning them from the table. "Time for Jacobius's feast." Jacobius lit another cigarette. "All special food, enhance manly selves." "Don't let that fractured English of his fool you," Reno told Ellison in a stage whisper. "It's all an act." As Ellison, trailing behind the others with Jacobius next to him, passed through the anteroom to Reno's inner sanctum, one of the secretaries hiked her skirt up so high that he and Jacobius could see the "v" of her lace panties. Jacobius didn't take his eyes off her. "One more inch, I see your jade gate," he laughed, and winked at Ellison before calling out to the others. "She even make my tongue hard!" Ellison glanced at Reno and smothered a grin--Jacobius was irrepressible. Reno ushered them into his vast office-- mahogany paneling, beveled mirrors, velvet furniture--and seated them around a round, polished teak table. At each chair stood a personal waitress dressed like a Playboy Bunny. Jacobius, who had taken it upon himself to be Ellison's guide through the dinner, passed around Marlboros and launched into a lecture while they awaited the first course. "For Chinese, food not just for body. Each food have purpose, also help balance elements, yin and yang. Yin female, soft--yang male, hard." He laughed. "Tonight we eat yang dishes. Good for men over forty." He eyed Ellison and gave him a mock frown. "Maybe you go now, come back another day. You not old enough yet." As the others laughed, the waitresses served each of them a shot glass filled with a thick red liquid. "Snake blood," Jacobius explained, quaffing the drink in one gulp. "Increase your heat." One of the waitresses placed a huge black platter of crisp-fried insects that sizzled with a garlic aroma. "Scorpions," Jacobius said. "Poison out." In the usual Chinese fashion, he used the serving chopsticks to transfer several scorpions to Ellison's plate. Cautiously, Ellison tasted one. To his surprise, it tasted crunchy and sweet, almost like shrimp. The idea was a lot more repellent than the reality. "Very good," he concluded. Jacobius gave him some more scorpions. "You know how to eat with chopstick? Where you learn?" "In San Francisco," Ellison replied. "Chinatown." "The Chinese believe that every food has a purpose," Reno said with a professorial tone. "Eating scorpion makes the cock as potent as the scorpion's tail. You're also supposed to chew it well, so your saliva extracts the precious substances. Ever noticed, doc, old men have no saliva? They're dry, and their balls are dry, too. So in China, rich men hire young boys to chew their food for them." "Same in Kuala Lumpur. Same in Philippines. Same in Taiwan," Jacobius agreed. "Boy saliva very strong." He looked up with anticipation as the next dish was brought in. "Good! Now sliced dog penis with hot peppers--make you screw six times tonight." "Only if you like the girl!" Beecham retorted. "Ha! You've never seen one you didn't like," Eduardo joked. Snake blood, scorpions, now dog penis. Ellison felt his stomach churn, but the others seemed to be relishing their food. When in Rome, he told himself, or rather, when in Zamboanga. If I'm not willing to try something new, I might as well have stayed home--but dog penis was a bit much. "For Chinese man, sex like second meal," Jacobius said, then choked on his cigarette. He smoked nonstop, even between bites of food. "Eat first food, then in sex eat second food. Keep man young." Reno, noticing Ellison's bewilderment, explained, "The Taoists taught that sex prolongs life as well as giving pleasure. As men get older their yang essence declines, so they need more yin." "From food?" Ellison asked. Reno laughed. "No! By absorbing the woman's vaginal secretions." "But not come," Jacobius added. "Taoist say, keep young, screw many young girls but man not come." "So you never ejaculate?" "Taoist monk say no," Jacobius chortled. "But I say, if no come, man get cranky!" "The dog is just chewy enough," Reno observed, picking his teeth. "What do you think, doctor?" "I just realized that ever since I've been here, I've only seen three dogs in the whole city," he said, with a short pause before delivering his punch line. "And those three all looked awfully nervous." The men erupted in laughter and Jacobius clapped him on the shoulder. For the remainder of the banquet, Ellison felt almost like one of them. Everyone seemed respectful and appreciative of the Doctors Abroad project, and Reno was certainly hospitable. When the waitresses began pouring out snifters of cognac, Ellison stood and bowed to his hosts as he took his leave. He drank sparingly at all times, but never more than a taste when he knew he'd be operating. Beecham offered to drive him back to the hotel, and Eduardo came along as well after inviting all the others to the gold dig at noon the next day. As the three of them made their way across the dance hall toward the exit, four young women appeared and sashayed toward them. One linked arms with Beecham. Two joined Eduardo. The fourth was Yuri. Smiling, she fell into step beside Ellison. Looking at them in their sheer, skimpy dresses--all they needed in the warmth of the evening--he thought that they were proof of Beecham's assertion. Zamboanga was home to the loveliest women on earth. "Reno's given Yuri to you as your wife for the night," Eduardo grinned. "I like you," she whispered, pressing closer to Ellison. He'd been warned that many women might see him as a ticket to the States, but Yuri seemed the very opposite of devious. He found her almost as beautiful as Miranda, and her eyes still radiated a surprising soft innocence. Ellison liked sex as much as the next man—Vicky had always said that even though he was useless around the house with a hammer or screwdriver, he more than made up for it in bed. And he'd been a long time without a woman, but-- "Don't just stand there, pardner," Beecham drawled. "C'me on, let's move on out!" "Please join us at my city place," Eduardo said. "Five bedrooms, each one with a private bath. Let Yuri give you a massage." "Choose me, not one of the other girls," Yuri said, her smile brilliant. As if to accentuate her point, she went up on tiptoes and kissed Ellison on his lips. When he felt her lips--so gentle and tender, so warm and full of promise--he felt himself stirring and kissed her back. She felt lean and firm against him, and about her was the scent of tropical flowers. Ellison looked down into Yuri's eyes. If he had just wanted to get laid, she would've been more than fine, But this was the wrong time and the wrong place. No, commercial sex wasn't for him. How could he turn her down without insulting her--and maybe Reno? "Maybe next time, Yuri." He kissed her gently on the cheek. "I have to operate in the morning." She clutched at his hand and nodded. "Yes, doctorrr," she replied, almost like a nurse, and for a moment he remembered old Mr. Punsalan and the gold and why he had come here. "Come on with us, then!" Eduardo invited her. "Todd, I'll pick you up after your morning cases. Beecham, we'll all be at my place. Stop on by later if you like." On the drive back to the hotel, Ellison couldn't stop thinking about Yuri. She'd been so ready. If he went to Eduardo's, she'd be there with them, his to do with as he pleased. To distract himself from the temptation, he made conversation with Beecham. "Reno's really something else." "During Vietnam, he used to work in the morgue up at a big base we had by Manila. Led a syndicate that smuggled heroin into the States by sewing baggies into the bellies of dead GIs getting shipped home in boxes." "What? That son of a bitch." "Yeah, it's true. They say he got so deep in the drug business that nobody in the States wanted him back. So he stayed in the Philippines, but before long got caught trafficking in amphetamines. After he finished doing his time, he set himself up down here trying to build back up. Flesh trade mainly, but there's plenty of drugs in these parts, too." "What about Matsumoto-san?" Beecham spoke slowly, as if editing his thoughts. "Retired mobster, from what I hear. Big time. I think he was Reno's friend first, before he met Eduardo. Rumor is he owns a piece of the club, or at least helped Reno set it up." "Eduardo called him his business partner." Ellison didn't like what he was hearing and was disturbed to think that Miranda's brother was involved with them. "I think Reno introduced them. What I heard was, Eduardo knew about some gold being mined on the other side of Mindanao and Matsumoto-san knew how to sell to a Swiss bank. The next thing I knew Eduardo told me he made thirty thou a month for the next year without doing another goddamn thing. Paid for a lot of parties, I'll tell you. Since then they've done several deals, I think." "And who's Jacobius?" "A crazy little fuck, in and out of China all the time. But my guess is he's the smartest of the bunch, except for Matsumoto-san. He seems to work for Matsumoto- san, but I'm not sure doing what." "They sound like scumbags. I can't believe Eduardo's involved with them. I mean, is he? On any of the bad stuff?" Beecham considered, then shook his head. "Nah. I wondered about him enough to have him checked out. He's nuts about gold and adventure, all right, but I don't think you'll ever meet a more honest guy." Maybe so, Ellison thought as the taxi pulled up in front of his hotel, but who was the real Eduardo? The one he admired for having risked his life to rescue children from sharks, or the playboy wheeler-dealer of this evening who seemed a bit too smooth? He'd never been around people like Beecham, Matsumoto-san, Jacobius, Reno, or Eduardo. They made him nervous. He could back off from having anything more to do with them. But that would mean giving up the dig, and the chance of seeing Miranda. *** After Ellison, Beecham, and Eduardo left, Matsumoto-san and Jacobius lounged around the table, smoking and drinking cognac, while Reno fielded telephone calls from corporate leaders and politicians seeking escorts. Matsumoto-san knew that they had gathered to discuss the amphetamine deal, but the few million he'd make wouldn't even begin to solve his financial problems. He felt sick with anticipation now that the Yamashita Treasure seemed so close, but he forced himself to stay calm. He couldn't afford to hurry the discussion because haste about plunging into business would have suggested insecurity, so he continued making conversation with Jacobius. "So, Jacobius, what's the best aphrodisiac?" "They say rhino horn--one ounce cost more than gold. But I think reindeer horn even better. I fly Siberia to watch. Reindeer kept in fence all year, then in March new horn grow. Men turn reindeer loose, chase them in forest until blood pumping hard. Catch with net and cut off just tip, stop blood squirting with wax. This best kind, make you young again. You come, we go together next time--" Reno hung up the phone. "Time to stop simply talking about girls, gentlemen. How about some dessert, Jacobius? Still like the chicks?" "I old now. Girl see my body, her water not come down." "Shit, any of the ladies here will have their water come down if you've got enough money." "Not for me," Jacobius laughed. "I buy new slacks Hong Kong tailor. He ask me, 'Dress right or left?' I ask what mean that. He say, 'Which way your happiness hang?' So I show him--no hang! Too short, like little boy." "You're still a man, so come on and take your pick. And you, Matsumoto-san, I've got someone special for you." Reno waddled down a long corridor to a one-way mirror where three well-dressed businessmen already stood talking in low tones. On the other side of the mirror, more than two hundred young women were sitting primly on sofas, chatting or watching television. Some were gazing at the mirror. They all wore identical short white dresses, black high heels, and just enough makeup to highlight their natural beauty. Above her left breast, each wore a pin with a red number. "Take two, Jacobius. You can use my personal room." "Reno, you good man." Jacobius puffed on his Marlboro. The other three men were discussing the merits of various breasts, legs, and faces like judges at a livestock show. Many of the girls smiled into the mirror hoping to be chosen, for just three customers each month would cover their living expenses and tuition at a good university. "I choose eight, Chinese lucky number. And fifty- three, because five plus three make lucky eight." "Lucky, my ass!" Reno laughed. "Number eight has the best tits in the Philippines--except for fifty-three's!" He led Jacobius and Matsumoto-san to a marble-tiled room equipped with an enormous spa and a double bed surrounded by mirrors, including one on the ceiling. "If you need anything, just pick up the phone," he told Jacobius. "We'll meet you back in my office later. The ladies will bring you." Back in the hall, Reno gave Matsumoto-san a conspiratorial wink. "Come with me." As they passed the one-way mirror, Matsumoto-san took another long look at the young women. He hated getting old, especially when his mind felt as young and vibrant as ever. But his own mirror refused to lie to him. He was bald except for a scanty ring of hair that horseshoed around just above his ears. His chest, formerly so broad and powerful, now lacked even the faintest muscle definition, and his stomach had wasted away too, leaving only pathetic pockets of sagging skin. His legs, which had always been short, were now bowed and entirely hairless. When he turned sideways, he noticed a slight stoop caused by the forward curvature of his back, and his buttocks too had lost all tone. Worst of all, he'd once had a large dick compared to the average Japanese man--but it too had shrunk over the years. Frankly horrified by what he saw, Matsumoto-san always dressed himself in the most expensive Italian business suits money could buy. But he knew that the luxurious fabrics were only camouflage against the inevitable. When he and Reno got back to the office, Vivian was already waiting. Matsumoto-san knew from previous visits that she commanded a thousand U.S. dollars a day--or night- -and that she was one of the few women who could still make him feel the "clouds and rain." Tall, slim, and tan, Vivian sashayed toward him with the grace of a princess. She always pretended to love him with such sincerity that he wondered if it were true. And that, he thought, was her secret power. He laughed when she greeted him and murmured that there had been no one since his last visit. He knew better. Then, after Reno left them alone, she sat next to him on the couch, kissed him, and fondled his crotch for several minutes before switching on the video screen. Matsumoto-san already knew what was coming. He and Vivian had done this before. Closed-circuit cameras let them spy on Jacobius lounging in a recliner. The two young women joined Jacobius, smiling but with their eyes downcast in what Matsumoto-san knew was feigned shyness. Matsumoto-san leaned back against the couch cushions, watching and feeling Vivian's hand working slowly, delectably, in his lap as the girls languorously stripped Jacobius, then led him to the steaming spa. They slipped out of their own dresses, lace panties, and bras, and slid svelte bodies into the water with him. "You beautiful," Jacobius said to number fifty-three, as she put her arms around him. "What you name?" "Angel." "Yes, you like angel," Jacobius laughed, reaching for her breasts. "That you real name?" She giggled and looked down demurely, but Matsumoto- san knew that her hands too were moving under the water. "No, sir, Angel is my sweet name." Jacobius chortled. "You still Filipina--never tell real name!" Matsumoto-san chuckled at Angel's charade. "He likes her," he told Vivian. "Maybe he'll start thinking about giving up his single life!" she laughed. "A girl like Angel in his bed every night--" "He'd probably die of overexertion!" Matsumoto-san interrupted, and they both laughed again. The two girls, making small talk, washed Jacobius's hair and scrubbed his body, then eased him back and gently washed his yang stick, while paying him the usual canned hookers' compliments about his size. Matsumoto-san was aware that Jacobius saw through them but also knew the game for what it was. "Don't crush my eggs!" Jacobius joked with a mock cringe. "No, sir," the girls chirped, massaging him and stroking him until he became erect, but then, with a professional sense of timing, moving to other, less erotic areas to prolong the experience. Jacobius seemed completely relaxed, soothed by the massage. Matsumoto-san continued watching for a few minutes but soon grew bored and told Vivian to unzip his pants. She knelt on the thick carpeting between his legs and reached for him. Jacobius and the girls were sighing and moaning. The Malaysian might be on the downhill slide into old age too, Matsumoto-san thought, but he still had some skills left. As for himself... The sounds brought images crowding into his mind, memories of the experiences that had given him the most intense pleasure, the most wrenching fulfillment. At times, he had wondered what his life might have been like if he'd been able to find complete satisfaction in relatively innocent writhings like Jacobius's. But the images of his dark desires persisted, feeding the erection that he felt growing under Vivian's skilled hands. He wondered if she realized how lucky she was to be safe from him. Reno would never have forgiven him--she was too valuable. Now the girls were stroking Jacobius harder, holding him more tightly. He moaned and clutched at them. "Special service, sir?" Angel asked. "How much?" Jacobius gasped. Matsumoto-san laughed. "He loves to negotiate--even in moments like these!" "Hands only, one thousand pesos," Angel told Jacobius. "Use mouth, two thousand. Special, two thousand five hundred." "I take special." "I wonder if his heart will be able to stand it," Matsumoto-san said as Jacobius pulled Angel's head down into his naked lap. Vivian stopped moving and smiled up at Matsumoto-san. "And you, sir?" she asked slyly. Matsumoto-san considered, then shrugged. "The same. But stop for a moment." He studied Jacobius writhing on the bed with the two women. "You like to watch," Vivian said. "Especially business partners and underlings. It's so amusing. The girls get an eight, but Jacobius only deserves a four. He used to do better in the old days." He stubbed out his cigarette and leaned against the couch again. "Now." Vivian bent again to her work of pleasure, and Matsumoto-san closed his eyes, letting fantasy envelop him as Jacobius's whinnying laugh rang through the office, "You make me come three times, I give you big tip!" *** "Angel so beautiful, I love her!" Jacobius announced when he came into Reno's office two hours later. "Make me want marry her. What she doing in business like this?" "Forget it," Reno said, now back at his desk. "I've been studying women for years, and 99 percent of them are whores who'll do anything for money if they need it enough." Jacobius laughed but shook his head. "You too down on women. Only 91 percent like that. Or less. But maybe no marry, heya? Buy bread by slice, not whole loaf." After Vivian had serviced Matsumoto-san, she had left him dozing on the couch. At last it was time to get down to business. He exchanged a glance with Reno just as the heavy mahogany door swung open and Ali Ali came in, carrying an expensive leather briefcase and wearing a starched uniform that crackled as he stepped briskly across the room. He wore so many medals that they tinkled like little bells with each step he took. The relaxed atmosphere of the room turned tense, expectant. Matsumoto-san knew that everyone in the room had something to hide. Like the rest of them, Ali was a criminal; but it always seemed to Matsumoto-san that including Ali in any business deal was too much like letting a lion into the room. Matsumoto-san felt danger from this man, but couldn't decide why he felt an unusual dread. Everyone in Zamboanga knew that Ali and his men collected protection money from every merchant in town, but no one outside this room seemed to know the rest. Amazing, he thought. Maybe it was that Ali was too smart. Maybe that's what bothered him. But--Matsumoto-san smiled at his memories--he'd killed a lot of smart men in his lifetime, in Japan and elsewhere. And he could do it again. "Okay," Reno said after they had all greeted the police chief and seated themselves around the teak table. "The Wah Ching gang wants to move nine hundred kilos of crystal meth to LA, but the U.S. drug enforcement agents have made it too hot for their labs and the usual routes out of Hong Kong. So now they want us to manufacture it in China and move it through Zamboanga to Los Angeles." Jacobius nodded. "I have lab in China, enough capacity." "Good. We split the cost of the materials, you supervise production and get the drugs to me, and with Ali's protection I'll get them to LA, no problem. We share the commission equally. Do you want in, Matsumoto-san?" "Of course, but I'm too committed right now to play any active role." He didn't care about the money, but the chance to ruin the lives of American children was not to be missed. "How much?" "Half a million U.S. each, but Ali comes in for free." "How much they pay?" Jacobius asked. "Three million each." "I like, can do." And with that the deal was struck. Matsumoto-san liked the underworld. We do not need a phalanx of lawyers to create a thirty-page contract detailing what to do if something goes wrong, he thought. He scanned the other men in the office. They all shared the same worldview, and each of them had enough muscle to enforce any contingency. Because of that they respected each other--and besides, they all knew that should all else fail, lex talionis ruled. An eye for an eye. Ali tapped his manicured fingertips on the briefcase before he spoke. His voice was deep and rich, like thick coffee. "May I speak now on a smaller matter?" At Reno's nod, Ali continued. "Can you do an arms deal, Jacobius?" "What you need?" "A hundred thousand U.S. in small arms and ammunition." Matsumoto-san was surprised that Ali had gotten hold of so much cash and wondered how the police chief had managed it. Jacobius narrowed his eyes as he calculated out loud. "Including fifty percent profit for guns. So, you get twenty-five thousand, I get twenty-five thousand. Not much. Pay for some parties only." "Can you do it?" "Have connection, but not easy." He considered for a moment. "Before, you only buy small. Each time, five or ten guns." "I've got a hundred thousand to buy guns for my department," Ali retorted. "Reno usually buys for me, but I heard you might be able to do something bigger." "You have money, I do for you, Chief Ali," Jacobius said, ever the dealmaker. "Profit all equal. Okay? Deal?" "Let's look at it," prodded Reno. "I love to see money." Ali opened the briefcase and bundles of U.S. hundred- dollar bills fell onto the table. Jacobius threw his head back in a raucous laugh. "You very bad man, Ali! I like that!" "Before we leave, I have a request as well," Matsumoto-san spoke at last. He called it a request but knew that the others had heard it as the order it was. They froze in their seats. "About Eduardo's dig--if he finds the gold, I plan to take it. I have men standing by. Of course I'll share it with all of you." "Beecham's handling security," Ali cautioned. "After the Moro attack the other day, I'm sure he's going to increase the guard." "I'm not looking to cause casualties," Matsumoto-san replied. "But Eduardo might get hurt. Any problems with that?" Reno shrugged. "Eduardo's a friend, but fuck 'em all if there's gold." Ali thought for a moment. "Miranda's involved in this, isn't she?" Reno laughed, his jowls jiggling. "Just try to keep her away. She's as bad a daredevil as her fuckin' brother." Ali scowled. "Just be sure nothing happens to her."