SLAPPED around, prodded in the backsides with bayonets, spit on, Rosetti and Bubonovitch were two rage filled and unhappy men long before they reached the native village. Here they were taken into a native house, trussed up, and thrown to the floor in a corner of the room. There they were left to their own devices, which consisted almost wholly of profanity. After describing the progenitors of all Japs from Horohito down, and especially those of Lt. Kumajiro Tada, in the picturesque and unprintable patois of Cicero, Brooklyn, and the Army, they worked back up to Hirohito again.
“What’s the use?” demanded Bubonovitch. “We’re just working up blood pressure.”
“I’m workin’ up my hate,” said Rosetti. “I know just how dat Corrie dame feels, now. I sure love to hate ’em.”
“Make the most of it while you can,” advised Bubonovitch. “That ocher looie’s going to lop your hater off in the morning.”
“Geeze,” said Rosetti. “I don’t wanna die, Bum.”
“Neither do I, Shrimp.”
“Geeze! I’m scairt.”
“So am I.”
“Let’s pray, Bum.”
“Okay. The last time you prayed to Her, She sent Tarzan.”
“I’m just leavin’ it to Her. I don’t care how She works it.”
There was not much sleep for them that night. Their bonds cut into wrists and ankles. Their throats were dry and parched. They were given neither food nor water. The night was an eternity. But at last it ended.
“Geeze! I wisht they’d come an’ get it over wit. Thinkin’ about it is the worst part.”
“Thinking about my wife and baby is the hardest part for me. My wife and I had such great plans. She’ll never know what happened to me, and I’m glad for that. All she’ll ever know is that my plane took off from somewhere for somewhere and never came back. Did you pray a lot, Shrimp?”
“Most all night.”
“So did I.”
“Who did you pray to, Bum?”
“One of ’em must have heard us.”
The sound of scuffing feet ascending the ladder to the house reached their ears.
“I guess this is it,” said Bubonovitch. “Can you take it, Shrimp?”
“Well, so long, fellow.”
“So long, Bum.”
A couple of soldiers entered the room. They cut away the bonds, and dragged the two men to their feet. But they couldn’t stand. Both of them staggered and fell to the floor. The soldiers kicked them in head and stomach, laughing and jabbering. Finally they dragged them to the doorway and slid them down the ladder one by one, letting them fall most of the way to the ground.
Tada came over and examined them. “Are you ready to answer my questions?” he demanded.
“No,” said Bubonovitch.
“Get up!” snapped the Jap.
Circulation was returning to their numbed feet. They tried to rise, and finally succeeded. But they staggered like drunken men when they walked. They were taken to the center of the village. The soldiers and the natives formed a circle around them. Tada stood beside them with drawn sword. He made them kneel and bend their heads forward. Bubonovitch was to be first.
“I guess They didn’t hear us, Shrimp,” he said.
“Who didn’t hear you?” demanded Tada.
“None of your goddam business, Jap,” snapped Bubonovitch. Tada swung his sword.
When the camp quieted down and most of the men and women slept in a drunken stupor, van der Bos crept to Tarzan’s side. “I’ve got a knife,” he said. “I’ll cut your bonds.”
“They’ve been off a long while,” said Tarzan.
“You broke them?” demanded the Dutchman in amazement.
“Yes. Now come along and come quietly. Give me the knife.”
A short distance inside the forest, Tarzan halted. “Wait here,” he whispered. Then he was gone. He swung quietly into the trees, advancing slowly, stopping often to listen and to search the air with his nostrils. Finally he located the sentry and climbed into the same tree in which had been built the platform on which the man was squatting. He was poised directly over the fellow’s head. His eyes bored down through the darkness. They picked out the form and position of the doomed man. Then Tarzan dove for him headfirst, the knife in his hand. The only sound was the thud of the two bodies on the platform. The sentry died in silence, his throat cut from ear to ear.
Tarzan pitched the body to the trail and followed it down with the man’s rifle. He walked back until he came to van der Bos. “Come on,” he said. “You can get past the sentry now.”
When they came to the body, van der Bos stumbled over it. “You certainly made a neat job of it,” he said.
“Not so neat,” said Tarzan. “He spurted blood all over me. I’ll be walking bait for stripes until we reach some water. Take his pistol belt and ammunition. Here’s his rifle. Now let’s get going.”
They moved rapidly along the trail, Tarzan in the lead. Presently they came to a small stream, and both washed the blood from them, for the Dutchman had acquired some while removing the belt from the corpse.
No tiger delayed them, and they soon came to the fork at which Tarzan had last seen his companions. There was no scent of them, and the two men followed along the trail the others were to have taken. It was daylight when they heard a shot close and in front of them.
Jerry and Corrie decided to remain where they were, waiting for Tarzan. They thought that he would soon return. It was well for their peace of mind that they did not know the misadventure that had befallen him. For greater safety they had climbed into a tree where they perched precariously and uncomfortably some twenty feet above the ground. Jerry worried about the fate of Bubonovitch and Rosetti, and finally decided to do something about it. The night had dragged on interminably, and still Tarzan had not returned.
“I don’t think he’s coming,” said Jerry. “Something must have happened to him. Anyway, I’m not going to wait any longer. I’m going on to see if I can locate Bubonovitch and Rosetti. Then if Tarzan does come, we’ll at least know where they are; and maybe together we can work out a plan to free them. You stay here until I come back. You’re safer here than you would be down on the ground.”
“And suppose you don’t come back?”
“I don’t know, Corrie. This is the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make—to decide between you and those two boys. But I have made the decision, and I hope you’ll understand. They are prisoners of the Japs, and we all know how Japs treat their prisoners. You are free and well armed.”
“There was only one decision you could make. I knew that you would go after them, and I am going with you.”
“Nothing doing,” said Jerry. “You stay right where you are.”
“Is that an order?”
He heard a faint suggestion of a laugh. “When you give an order on your ship, Captain, even a general would have to obey you. But you are not captain of this tree. Here we go!” and Corrie slipped from the branch on which she had been sitting and climbed to the ground.
Jerry followed her. “You win,” he said. “I might have known better than to try to boss a woman.”
“Two guns are better than one,” said Corrie, “and I’m a good shot. Anyway, I’d sat on that darned limb until I was about ready to scream.”
They trudged along the trail side by side. Often their arms touched; and once Corrie slipped on a muddy stretch, and Jerry put an arm around her to keep her from falling. He thought, I used to paw that girl back in Oklahoma City, but it never gave me a thrill like this. I think you have fallen for this little rascal, Jerry. I think you have it bad.
It was very dark, and sometimes they bumped into trees where the trail curved; so their progress was slow. They could only grope their way along, praying that dawn would soon break.
“What a day we’ve had,” said Jerry. “All we need now, to make it perfect, is to run into a tiger.”
“I don’t think we need worry about that,” said Corrie. “I’ve never heard of a tiger attacking a white man with a rifle. They seem to know. If we leave them alone, they’ll leave us alone.”
“I guess that’s right. They probably know when a man is armed. When I was riding after cattle back home, I’d see plenty of coyotes when I didn’t have a gun. But if I was packing a gun, I’d never see one.”
“‘Back home,’” repeated Corrie. “You poor boys are so very, very far from back home. It makes me very sad to think of it. Bubonovitch with that pretty wife and baby way on the other side of the world. Missing the best years of their life.”
“War is rotten,” said Jerry. “If we ever get home, I’ll bet we’ll do something about the damned Nips and krauts that’ll keep ’em from starting wars for a heck of a long time. There’ll be ten or twelve millions of us who are good and fed up on war. We’re going to elect an artillery captain friend of mine governor of Oklahoma and then send him to the senate. He hates war. I don’t know a soldier who doesn’t, and if all America will send enough soldiers to Congress we’ll get some place.”
“Is Oklahoma nice?” asked Corrie.
“It’s the finest state in the Union,” admitted Jerry.
The new day was kicking off the covers and crawling out of bed. It would soon be wide awake, for close to the equator the transition from night to day takes place quickly. There is no long drawn out dawning.
“What a relief,” said Corrie. “I was very tired of night.”
“Gripes!” exclaimed Jerry. “Look!” He cocked his rifle and stood still. Standing in the trail directly in front of them was a tiger.
“Don’t shoot!” warned Corrie.
“I don’t intend to if he’ll just mind his own business. This dinky little .25 caliber Jap rifle wouldn’t do anything more than irritate him, and I never did like to irritate tigers so early in the morning.”
“I wish he’d go away,” said Corrie. “He looks hungry.”
“Maybe he hasn’t heard of that theory of yours.”
The tiger, a large male, stood perfectly still for several seconds, watching them; then it turned and leaped into the underbrush.
“Whee-oo!” exclaimed Jerry with a long sigh of relief. “My heart and my stomach were both trying to get into my mouth at the same time. Was I scared!”
“My knees feel weak,” said Corrie. “I think I’ll sit down.”
“Wait!” cautioned Jerry. “Listen! Aren’t those voices?”
“Yes. Just a little way ahead.”
They moved forward very cautiously. The forest ended at the edge of a shallow valley, and the two looked down upon a little kampong scarcely a hundred yards from them. They saw natives and Jap soldiers.
“This must be where the boys are,” said Jerry.
“There they are!” whispered Corrie. “Oh, God! He’s going to kill them!”
Tada swung his sword. Jerry’s rifle spit, and Lt. Kumajiro Tada lunged forward, sprawling in front of the men he had been about to kill. Then Corrie fired, and a Jap soldier who was rushing toward the two prisoners died. The two kept up a fusillade that knocked over soldier after soldier and put the village into panic.
Tarzan, hurrying forward at the first shot, was soon at their side; and van der Bos joined them a moment later, adding another rifle and a pistol. Tarzan took the latter.
Bubonovitch and Rosetti, taking advantage of the confusion in the kampong, seized rifles and ammunition from two of the dead soldiers and backed toward the forest, firing as they went. Rosetti had also acquired a couple of hand grenades, which he stuffed into his pockets.
A Jap sergeant was trying to collect his men, forming them up behind a house. Suddenly they charged, screaming. Rosetti threw his grenades in quick succession among them; then he and Bubonovitch turned and ran for the forest.
The firing had ceased before the two sergeants reached the little group just within the forest. Rosetti’s grenades had put an end to this part of World War II, at least temporarily. The Japs were definitely demoralized or dead.
“Geeze!” said Rosetti. “They did hear us.”
“They sure did,” agreed Bubonovitch.
“Who heard you?” asked Jerry.
“God and the Blessed Mary,” explained Rosetti. The little party had been so intent upon the battle that they had scarcely looked at one another while it was progressing. Now they relaxed a little and looked around. When Corrie and Tak van der Bos faced one another they were speechless for a moment. Then they both exclaimed simultaneously: “Corrie!”
“Darling!” cried Corrie, throwing her arms around the young Dutchman. Jerry was not amused.
Then followed introductions and brief resumes of their various adventures. While the others talked, Tarzan watched the kampong. The Japs seemed utterly confused. They had lost their officer and their ranking non-commissioned officers. Without them, the ordinary private soldier was too stupid to think or plan for himself.
Tarzan turned to Jerry. “I think we can take that village and wipe out the rest of the Japs if we rush them now while they are demoralized and without a leader. We have five rifles, and there aren’t more than a dozen Japs left who are in any shape to fight.”
Jerry turned to the others. “How about it?” he asked.
“Come on!” said Bubonovitch. “What are we waiting for?”