Judy Bolton Days

Judy Bolton Days
First annual in 1991!

Friday, January 27, 2012


 All chapters through chapter 10 are now available on this alternate site:

THE QUEST OF THE GOLDEN DRAGON https://sites.google.com/site/rickbrantfanfiction/dragon



“I just don’t get it,” Scotty complained as he and Rick hoofed it up Causarina Avenue back out in the heat of the sun and the busy Rabaul traffic.

“That Chinese man was just too informative,” he went on. “We just walked right in there and found out everything we wanted to know. It was way darn heck too easy! It just doesn’t set right with me.”

Rick punched him playfully on the arm. “Relax. We can’t be distrustful of all the Chinese people we run into.”

“Why not?” Scotty wanted to know. “They all act suspiciously, if you ask me. For all we know, that Mr. Wong could be a member of the tong!”

“Come on now,” Rick cajoled him. “They’re not all bad. You know that. Jimmy is part Chinese.”

Scotty glowered at him. “Right. From his grandfather. And he was the leader of the tong!”

“Don’t be so worried,” Rick warned. “As long as we’re on Dad’s trail, that’s all that matters. We’ll handle any complications as they come.”

Scotty snorted and forced a grin. “Yah, like we always do.”

They turned west on Papua Street and walked down toward the Chinatown area. The attractive government offices and commercial establishments gave way to more utilitarian-looking buildings as they approached the Oriental neighborhood, and the people in the street all but assumed the look of the Chinese.

There were few of the dark-skinned natives here. Most of those milling about were young men dressed fashionably in the white tropical suits, dark hair slicked back and eyes slanted. There were white men, from Europe, Australia, and America, rough-looking characters, unshaven, with holstered guns swagging their hips and brimmed pith helmets and fedoras shading their eyes. They busily moved about the sidewalks in front of the shops whose windows were filled with displays of goods from all over Asia and the islands. Rick couldn’t help but wonder where they were all going, what they were all doing.

“Those fellows must be the gold seekers and adventurers,” Scotty said, as if in answer to Rick’s thoughts. He chuckled. “They probably all come to Chinatown because the food is so good.”

“And the rates cheaper,” Rick added, pointing to a big wood frame hotel on the next corner. “Look, there’s Ho Wah’s Hotel. Big place, huh? I bet rooms there are cheaper than at the European Hotel.”

“And there’s Jimmy,” Scotty jerked his chin ahead. “He’s got a jeep. Sure looks like it’s been through a war.”

Rick began to laugh. “Right. The same one you went through.”

Scotty grunted. “But I don’t look that bad!”

Rick grinned at him. “If you’d had to carry around all the Japs that thing did, you’d look every bit as bad.”

The boys crossed the street in the din of the traffic, voices, clangs and whistles, and above it all the constant beating of the drums from up in the hills. They walked over to Jimmy who was leaning against the beat-up vehicle by the curb in front of the hotel.

“It’s a war relic,” their kanaka friend said, as if they’d had no idea it was. He stepped aside so they could view it better.

The vehicle was painted a drab military green, had no top or front windshield, and the seats were covered with worn upholstery that certainly would not be very comfortable sitting on while driving on bumpy mountain roads.

Jimmy handed Rick some bills and a receipt. He pointed across the street. “I got it at that garage, cheap. Doesn’t look like much but it drives good.  I just took it for a few minutes spin around town. We can drop it off at an associate garage in Storms End.”

“Looks great. Just so it gets us around,” Rick agreed, then went on to tell him what he and Scotty had learned at the European Hotel.

“Wow!” Jimmy’s eyes widened with excitement. “The madman of Coastwatchers Hill? A legendary old Chinese man? This sure sounds mysterious, fellas. I’ve always wanted to see those caves up there and I guess that’s where we’re bound, huh? Do you have any idea why your dad would want to find this crazy man, Rick?”

“Not any more than I knew why he wanted to find your grandmother.” Rick shrugged. “But we found out the reason for that, didn’t we? And I’m supposing we’ll find out the reason behind this, too.”

“It’s part of the mystery,” Scotty said. “Just like your Grandma Sal is, Jimmy. An old American lady on Lateela, now it’s an old Chinese man here at Rabaul. Could be someone she knew back then … when … she …”

Scotty words had faltered, then he clamped his mouth shut as their three sets of eyes locked together with anxious expressions. For a full half-minute they were speechless. Then, his voice strained and heavy, Jimmy blurted:
“No, it can’t be. He’s dead!”

Rick let out an excited breath. “Of course! I hadn’t thought of it. Johnny Fang! Your grandfather. What if it’s him?”

“But it can’t be, Rick,” Scotty interposed before Jimmy could answer. “He died on Palua Pae.”

“Did he?” Rick wondered aloud, his heart suddenly beginning to thump a tattoo in beat to the jungle drums up in the hills. “Jimmy, did Grandma Sal actually see Johnny Fang die?”

Jimmy was standing there with his mouth agape, and Rick and Scotty saw a shudder run through him. He drew in a deep breath. “Man, this is too weird to even think about! Grandma Sal saw him disappear. Like into thin air by the glaring light in the middle of that cavern. Gosh, fellas, do you think …?” 

He looked at Rick and Scotty with an agonizing wonder, adding, “Do you think maybe he didn’t die?”

“And somehow ended up here in those Japanese caves … a madman?” Rick concluded for him. “You bet I do, Jimmy. What other old Chinese man could it be, connected with your grandmother and the mystery of Palua Pae? And isn’t this port the first stop after that lost island?”

Scotty nodded. “Right, Rick. It’s where the boat that picked up Grandma Sal first put in. Could be that Johnny Fang survived and got picked up too and taken here. Then went up to live in the caves, a madman because of what happened to him in that cave of light.”

Jimmy leaned against the jeep, an astounded expression on his face. “I don’t believe it! Man, all these years I thought he was dead. Say it is him, Rick. How would your dad know to look for him? And to look for him here in Rabaul?”

“How did he know to look for your grandmother on Lateela Island?” Rick countered. “My dad and Dr. Warren have information we can only guess at. Somebody else knows what happened on Palua Pae when Shanghai Sal and Johnny Fang were there. And whoever they are, they told the United Nations because they’ve got Dad and Dr. Warren out here tracking it all down.”

Scotty grunted. “And told us they were checking out coconuts!”

Jimmy turned away from them and the boys could see he was deeply moved as he gazed up at the hills beyond Vulcan.

He sighed. “And what the heck is it that they’re tracking down? Man, like the United Nations! Scientists! And right after the biggest war the world has ever known. It’s just got to be so big, so important. I can’t believe that my family is involved in something so big and … international … and mysterious!”

Just then a swelling of the murmur of the crowd rose up around them and a buzz in the sky above caused them to turn their heads and look up.

“Hey, it’s Pocka!” Rick exclaimed, pointing above at the familiar onrushing Dragon which seemed to be bearing down right on Chinatown.

“Oh no!” Scotty blurted. “I thought we left that guy behind us.”

“Ha!” Jimmy laughed. “No way behind us. He’ll be on top of us in a second!”

As the people on the street all stopped to look up at the approaching biplane, its pilot pulled up short and roared straight up into the sky in a twisting spiral directly above Ho Wah’s Hotel. The noise of the crowd swelled and cheers broke out in appreciation of the daredevil stunt.

Rick shot a clenched fist up into the air, shouting, “Go, Pocka! Do your stuff!”

A Chinese woman who had stopped next to the jeep to watch the airplane looked at them with an excited smile.

“You know Pocka Poco?” she asked with a laughing lilt.

“Darn right we do!” Scotty answered. “He flew us here earlier today. We were just on that very airplane.”

“Oh, me never go on it,” the woman said, gaping back up high into the sky. “I afraid! But he always do tricks for Chinatown when he fly away!”

“Sounds like Pocka,” Jimmy grinned, watching the Dragon as it shot up so high it seemed like they wouldn’t been able to see it anymore.

But just in time, while they could still see it, the plane leveled off into a quick rollover and then shot back down straight at them, whirling in a hurricane-speed death spiral right at the center of Chinatown.

“Whoaaa … oaaa, Pocka!” Rick boomed out, as the excited crowd clapped and cheered.

“Yow! He’s gonna crash right into the hotel,” Jimmy groaned. “How can he do these crazy stunts and stay in one piece?”

“He’ll level out right at the psychological moment,” Scotty told them. “You wait. Just when we can’t stand it anymore.”

Some of the crowd were shouting and screaming now, afraid the pilot might not be able to stop, others were pointing and laughing for they’d seen this done before and knew it would come to no harm.

When it seemed that the pilot could go no further in the spinning spiral, he did go farther, and the crowd sucked in a collective “Oooh!” and held its breath. Rick was clenching his fists so hard he could feel his nails biting into his palms.

“Come on, Pocka,” he groaned. “Level off, man. You’ll crash!”

Scotty slapped the hood of the jeep. “Yo, Jack! Stop it! Straighten out! Now!”

And then, with a huge whoosh, when it seemed like there wasn’t a second left and that the Dragon would surely crash right into the hotel, the pilot swooped straight and did a series of zigzags and hops while the crowd applauded and cheered until the plane disappeared into the distance.

“He crazy man!” the Chinese woman said to the boys after letting go a long breath she’d been holding. Then she bowed slightly and, with a smile, walked on.

“Crazy as a mad kangaroo,” Jimmy grunted in agreement. “Remind me never to go on a flight with that guy again!”

Scotty nodded eagerly. “You bet. Once was totally enough for me too!”

Rick watched as the crowd began to move on and the people went back to what they had been doing. “He wouldn’t be able to do that back home in the States,” he said thoughtfully. “There must be little, if any, aviation regulations here.”

“Probably none, not yet,” Jimmy said, leaning back against the jeep. “We’ve only had planes around here in New Guinea on a regular basis since the war.” His mouth set in a firm straight line as his face grew serious. “So what do you guys say? Shall we eat lunch and clean up or should we go right on up to Coastwatchers Hill? We can get food and a shower-bath at Ho Wah’s.”

Rick shrugged his shoulders. “We sure could use a clean-up and food sounds good. But I’m really anxious to get up into those caves.”

“Do you think Dad and Dr. Warren could still be there?” Scotty asked.

“Maybe. How can you even take a guess? We’re so in the dark about all of this. I just think it’s best to follow up this lead as quickly as possible.”

“We can get food to-go at Ho Wah’s,” Jimmy suggested, “and catch up with cleaning up as we go along.”

“Good idea,” Scotty grinned in agreement, adding, “Especially that food to-go!”

The boys swung into action and went into the hotel where they ordered the food and freshened up in the rest room as best they could. They brushed their teeth, took their quinine pills for the day, gazed longingly at the shower-bath room available, but knew they just didn’t have the time. On the way out, after picking up the food order, Jimmy bought a local English language newspaper, and then they went a few doors down the street to an outfitters where they bought a couple lanterns and an extra flashlight to use in the caves.

They stopped next at a filling station on the way out of town for instructions, and Rick got a map and a tourist brochure as Jimmy filled the tank and Scotty pretended to wash the front windshield that wasn’t there.

As Jimmy drove up Tunnel Hill Road, Rick could tell that Scotty was still annoyed. He was suspicious of everything and everybody, and rightly so, Rick figured. He was too. But as long as they were moving ahead on the trail of his dad, he just wasn’t going to worry about it. Not now when maintaining some kind of clarity of mind was so important.

The jungle foliage closed in around them as they drove up switchbacks to the higher elevations. Here and there open areas offered views of nearby Vulcan, smoking away and looking close enough to touch. The volcano was mostly barren, covered with ash and having only patches of the jungle growth. Beyond it were glimpses of the harbor and the other volcanoes, the wide cloudless blue sky, and the sparkling waters of the Bismarck Straits.

Signs in English and the native language pointed the way upward to Coastwatchers Hill. The jeep bounced along the bumpy dirt road. It was uncomfortable riding but the engine purred smoothly as if it was brand new. Scotty couldn’t help wondering about the Japanese soldiers and how many of them might have ridden in the jeep during the war.

Soon they were up to the high ridges and the road ended at a large level area, a ragged field overlooking the massive cone of Vulcan with its gushing plume of smoke and ash.

“Nice view,” Scotty commented, as Jimmy pulled the jeep to a stop next to two big artillery guns near the cliff edge of the clearing.

“This is the coastwatchers lookout,” Rick said, reading from the brochure. “It was the headquarters area for the Japanese military and entranceway into the tunnels.” He pointed ahead out past the harbor. “Those islands out there in the straits are the Duke of York Islands and, on a clear day sometimes, you can see the shores of New Ireland across the way.”

Scotty grimaced, squinting his eyes to look at the islands ahead and search for a distant shore beyond. “That’s another thing about this whole place New Guinea. It’s all a tropical jungle filled with natives, and some of them pretty darn primitive. But all the important place names are European – British and Dutch and German. It’s like some kind of strange oooh-blah-dee land. Nothing jives right. Why aren’t these people here in control of their own lands?”

“It’s ‘empire’, Scotty,” Jimmy said, turning off the engine. “The Germans and Dutch and British came out this way for conquest. The Portuguese, too, and the French in many places, the Spanish up in the Philippines. Heck, it was easy for them to beat down the uncivilized natives and take over.

“But it’s getting better,” he went on, standing up to peer out at the vista and get a better view. The breeze began to ruffle through his curly blond hair. “Someday New Guinea will be free and its people their own masters. Australia will let us go. But the way it is now, we still need her. Papuans have a long way to go yet before they can control their own destiny.”

“And maybe you’ll be president one day,” Rick suggested with a chuckle. “Scotty and I will come out here twenty years from now and visit you at the presidential mansion.”

Jimmy looked thoughtful as he scrutinized the smoldering cone of Vulcan. “Give me thirty years,” he laughed. “If I decide to go into politics I want to have some fun first!”

Rick climbed out and was inspecting the big guns, glancing back and forth at the brochure in his hand. “This is a pair of Japanese anti-aircraft guns,” he told the others. “Seventy-five millimeter ones. And there’s another.” He pointed down the cliff edge about fifty feet away. “That one there, it’s twenty-five millimeter. And some others … those!” He gestured to the hillside behind where two big guns rested right at the edge of the bush. “Those must be the anti-tank guns. They’re different.”

“There is supposed to be a lot of munitions around here,” Jimmy said, jumping to the ground. “The caves are loaded with all kinds of stuff.”

Scotty swung his legs over the side and joined them on the mud-packed grass. “Good! Maybe we can find some arms to take with us on the way to Storms End.”

He cocked his head to listen to the sound of the drums coming from the hills behind. “This is starting to spook me out, boys. Here we are in New Britain listening to jungle drums, gazing into a volcano while on our way to Japanese caves! It’s totally weirdsville, guys. We need some guns!”

Rick laughed and punched his arm. “What you need is some food, buster. You can really get far out and grumpy when you’re hungry.” He reached into the jeep and pulled out the big paper sack holding the Chinese food from Ho Wah’s. “Here. Eat! You’ll feel better.”

Scotty took the bag from Rick. “Darn right I will! Man, this stuff smells great,” he grinned, sniffing at it. “Good enough to make us all turn Chinese.” He chuckled, glancing quickly at Jimmy. “Cripes, you’re already halfway there!”

Jimmy grinned happily back. “One quarter, Scotty. Not half. I’m half kanaka from my dad. One quarter American from Grandma Sal and one quarter Chinese from Johnny Fang.”

Rick turned to look at the hillside where the entrances to the caves were hidden behind the jungle growth.

“Johnny Fang!” he grunted. “Let’s eat, boys. Then we can go into those caves and see if we can find that mad old Chinaman. He may just be the key to this whole crazy mystery!"

The boys sat down at the edge of the cliff and attacked the containers of food. Their appetites were hardy; they hadn’t eaten since early morning and it was already past lunchtime. They admired the view and discussed all the strange aspects of the case as they devoured eggrolls, fried rice, lemon chicken, pepper steak, and paper cups of tea packed nicely for them in a bottle.

A few minutes into the meal and they were already all three feeling better. The delicious rich and salty food was just what they needed to charge them up from the stress of the long night, the escape from the pirates, and the wild daredevil flight to Rabaul.

Presently Rick noticed a couple native boys watching them from the bush. All he could see was their dark faces and wide eyes, and he suspected they were far more interested in the food they were eating than in them themselves.

He gestured toward the boys. “Jimmy, tell those kids to come over. Maybe we can learn something from them.”

“Yeah, they might know the madman if they hang around up here,” Scotty figured.

Jimmy stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled at the boys across the clearing. Then he gestured for them to come over. They edged out of the foliage into the sunlight and looked over at the boys warily. They were dressed only in ragged short pants, with no shirts and no shoes. One was tall and appeared to be a teenager. The other was short and younger, maybe nine or ten years old.

“Brotha! Brotha!” Jimmy called, gesturing again with his arm. “Cumalong dis place. Dis fellas heah hokay!”

The two boys smiled tentatively after hearing that and began to run across the clearing.

“They seem to understand that jive,” Scotty grinned.

“All the kids know pidgin now,” Jimmy explained. “At least one of the several forms of it. Even kids from the jungle villages. It’s been around for ages now and was especially used a lot in the years between the two great wars.”

The native boys ran up and stopped at the cliff edge near the boys, grinning eagerly as they looked hungrily at the food. They both had mops of curly dark hair and the taller one was skinny, but they both looked well fed enough.

Rick told Jimmy, “Ask them if they’re hungry.”

Jimmy grinned back at the smiling boys. “Brotha! Brotha!” he addressed them again, then rattled off a chain of words in the local kanaka tongue.

The tall one responded and the younger boy looked on eagerly and a conversation ensued with lightning quick dialogue that sounded like a lot of mumbo jumbo to Rick and Scotty.

“Yes, they are very hungry,” Jimmy explained at length. “They live in a village beyond this mountain and often come up to play in the caves. They smelled the food and were spying on us, hungry for some.”

“They can have the rest of it,” Scotty said. “We’ve had our fill. There is plenty left over.”

“Right,” Rick agreed. “Tell them to sit down and eat. We can ask them about the caves. If they play in there, they ought to know a lot about them.”

Jimmy translated and the boys sat down excitedly and assaulted the cartons of food as Rick and Scotty passed them over. They ate with their hands, quickly and neatly as could be expected, and they gulped down the tea that Scotty poured for them in the paper cups.

Rick grinned as he watched them. “Barefoot and hungry,” he laughed. “Ask them what they know about the caves, Jimmy. And the madman, too.”

Jimmy rattled off another barrage of expressive syllables and both boys nodded and laughed in high pitched cackles. Then the older boy pointed back to the hillside and said, “You betch’um! Cuckoo nut Chinaman dem Jap caves belongem!” Then he reverted to kanaka to tell Jimmy even more.

When the boy stopped speaking, Jimmy turned to Rick and Scotty. “They play in the caves all the time and know them well. The madman lives in there. As long as they can remember, he’s been in there, and the old folks say he’s been living here from many years ago before that.

“But,” Jimmy went on, frowning a little, “they haven’t seen him in a few days and were just now in the caves looking around for him. They are brothers and sometimes their mother sends them over with food for the old Chinese man. It appears that the village people kind of look after him.”

Rick’s brows began to furrow. “Ask when the last time they saw him was.”

The question was fielded and Jimmy translated the energetic response. “They saw him five days ago, having brought him a bowl of optaki their mother made. He was very happy to receive the food and as a reward showed the boys a trolley system in the caves with tracks and cables and pushed them for a ride in a car. But since then he has not been in his cave or anywhere in the tunnels. At least, they haven’t seen him.”

Rick looked at Scotty, slowly shaking his head. “He’s been gone since the day Dad and Dr. Warren came up here. What do you make of it?”

Scotty pondered for a minute, tossing a stone over the cliff. Then he shrugged. “Hopefully it means they found the old man and took him along with them wherever they were headed.” He turned to Jimmy, his lips pressed tightly together in thought. “Ask them if they saw two white men around here, Rick’s dad and Dr. Warren.”

Both boys jibber-jabbered in length in answer to the question. Afterward, Jimmy looked at Rick and Scotty with a grim expression. “They were not here that day. But other boys from the village had come up and they saw several vehicles drive into this field and park. Small trucks and a jeep. A bunch of young Chinese men jumped out and ran into the caves, all of them bearing guns. The boys were so frightened that they all ran back home to the village.”

Rick looked at the two dark-skinned boys still happily eating the Chinese food. He groaned. “That sure doesn’t sound good! My dad and Dr. Warren come up here and then follows a band of Chinese … mercenaries?”

“Or maybe pirates or tong members? One and the same,” Scotty huffed. He looked angrily back at the road they had come up on, adding, “Mr. Wong from the European Hotel sent Dad and Dr. Warren up here, and then maybe he called the chink gunmen to go up after them? I didn’t trust that guy from the moment I first saw him! And now he sent us up here! Those slant-eyed eggheads might be on their way up right now to get us!”

He clamped his mouth shut abruptly, looking at Jimmy. “Sorry, bud. Didn’t mean to offend you about the slanted eyes.”

Jimmy looked at him and laughed. “Scotty, you couldn’t offend me if you tried. Because if you did, I’d have to beat you up really bad. And I like you too much to do that!”

Scotty made a sour face and narrowed his eyes. “Don’t push your luck, Jimmy Tomato. I might have to pick you up and throw you over into Vulcan’s cone!”

Rick scrambled to his feet and got between the two of them. “Knock it off, tough guys. We have a whole lot more to worry about than which one of you bozos can do the worst damage.”

He shot a quick glance at Jimmy. “Ask those kids if anything’s been amiss at the old man’s cave since he’s been gone. Anything missing? Maybe signs of a struggle?”

Jimmy questioned the boys and they chatted noisily, shaking their heads in the universal sign of No.

“Everything is the same,” Jimmy explained. “His food supplies and clothes are still there, and his guns and ammunition.”

“Guns? Ammo?” Scotty’s eyes widened at that. “We’d better vamanoose to that cave and arm ourselves before the tong boys come up here after us.”

“Exactly what I’m thinking,” Rick agreed. “The madman will have done us at least some good if we can get his guns.”

Scotty pushed himself to his feet. “What I don’t get,” he was saying, “is why the madman is just a legend down in town. But up here in the hills everyone seems to know him and they even bring him food, as if he was just the old man next door!”

“It’s two different worlds, Scotty,” Jimmy said as he got up. “The people down in Rabaul are far more civilized than the tribal people in these mountains. Naturally they don’t believe a lot of the strange tales they hear from them.”

The kanaka boys had finished up the food and Rick began picking up the cartons and wrappings and placing them in the paper sack Scotty held open for him.

Rick said, “Ask these boys if they’ll show us the way to the old man’s cave.”

After being questioned, the boys readily agreed and got to their feet with happy smiling faces, having partaken in a food feast they’d never known the likes of before. After they had cleaned up the site, Scotty put the refuse in the back of the jeep.

“Should we hide this vehicle in case our tong pirate chums come looking for us?” he asked.

“That’s a good idea. We’d better,” Rick agreed.

The taller native boy started jabbering excitedly, having been watching them closely.

“Smart kid,” Jimmy said. “He understood that. He says there’s a short dead-end cave right up in the bush we can park it in. Come on. Let’s get going!”

“You bet!” Rick jumped into the jeep to drive it across the lookout field as Scotty and Jimmy and the boys hoofed it over to the bush. He followed closely behind them, an eager thrill coursing through him in anticipation of what lay ahead in the caves.

He didn’t expect to find his dad and Dr. Warren there, or the old Chinese man. No, from what they’d heard from the native boys it seemed like they were gone, maybe on their own or more probably captured. But he did hope to find some kind of clue as to what had happened, where they may have gone, or where they may have been taken!

Chapter Eleven coming soon!