The Secret of Morolonago

Part IV: The Ruined Fortresss

Discovery

Running break-neck I found one of Max's men en route to Legaspi's baluarte. He was face-down in a main thoroughfare, moonlight glinting off the puddle of blood in which he lay. Had Max sent him out as a runner?

I observed the body from a shadowed side street but did not come any closer to investigate. He may have even still been alive, but I'd already pulled that trick myself and was not keen to fall for it. Without a second thought I continued on.

The rest of the run to the bastion was tense, but unremarkable. I bolted at top speed through the streets and made it just as my legs began to burn. A smart person would have just assumed her clients were now victims of self-destructive blow gun wielding Communists and would have been right to just leave upon that realization. I on the other hand have bills to pay. Seaplanes are not cheap toys.

The main stronghold of Legaspi, even under limited moonlight was a spectacle. Seperated from the rest of Legaspi by a wide moat that ended at the ocean at both ends it was an island within an island. Its immensly thick walls were dotted with towers along the top and cannons all along the wall still stood guard to protect the balaurte.  A wide stone bridge led to the only entrance, an outsized gate crowned with an impressive Spanish crest. Above the crest stood a man with a rifle and he had a fine bead on me.

“Get on the ground!” He hollered. Norton I believe it was.

“It’s Mattie!”

“Get on the ground afore I put you in it!”

“Then who’s going to fly the plane?”

He took a moment to formulate some slow witted retort but I was spared his verbal genius by the appearance of Max at the gate.

“Did you blow up the plane?” He shouted to me.

 “Yeah, I really needed the insurance money.” I spat back.

“Do tell.”

“What the hell is going on?” I asked.

“Evaluating historical value. Now get gone, we’ll talk again when we’re done.”

 “Not happening. There’s some angry natives between here and there and I think we all have some questions to be answered.”

“Yeah.”

“So can I come in the He-Man Woman Hater’s Clubhouse or not?”

 

Max disappeared from the wall and let me sweat for a good long moment. I checked over my shoulder twice, watching for movement in the streets and shadows, before one of the fort's doors swing open just enough to allow my entrance.

Behind the door was an entrance tunnel connecting it to the fort's interior parade grounds. One of the lackey no-names closed the door with a hard shoulder shove then he and the other lack rebarred it with a heavy wooden beam. Just down the corridor was Max, dressing down a man carrying their pack radio.

"-not without parts," his man said. "It was ripped open."

"Then jury rig!"

"With the Jap parts?"

The task of gate barring over, one of the lackeys demanded my weapons.

"Afraid of a girl, are you?" I teased.

"You're not one of us, give them up or I take them."

"I've spilt blood enough tonight, but touch me and I spill yours too," I warned.

Max interrupted our banter with a shout. "Leave the pilot be. Lady, follow me, we'll talk in el commandante's villa."

"But boss-" His man tried to say.

"What? Afraid of a girl, Manley?" He snickered.

Following Max into the bastion proper I saw that like the town here too hadn't been touched much since 1898. Most of the interior was occupied by a massive over-grown and weedy  courtyard/drill area and along the walls were rows of tall barracks, a few officer’s villas and a fire-gutted chapel. It didn't look like much for a complex designed to be defended by hundreds or thousands, but from what I know of these places most everything else is built into the walls themselves.

Max led me to a villa slightly larger than the others which he used as a headquarters. This was most likely due to his Texan predilection for over-compensating in all areas of life. We were alone inside save for the party's equipment and supplies that were carefully organized in the main downstairs room.

 We sat at a wooden table in a quaint old kitchen, the room lit by a single candle mounted in an ornate holder on the wall. It was dusty in there but otherwise nicely furnished and even had chopsticks, silverware and bowls on counter. I was fairly certain he’d not brought those with him out here, nor the five year old AM radio on our table. Max sat across from me in a chair with a blue cloth with a black and red pattern sewn into it draped over the back.

“Smith was worried when you didn’t call in so we came looking for you.”

“The radio took a crap on us. Now what was that explosion in town all about?” He asked me.

“Don’t know; I was on the top deck of a hacienda and when some of the natives came in they went boom. Figured I’d ask if you’d set a trap.”

“We didn’t. Maybe one of the locals got ahold of a Jap grenade.”

“Reckon it’s possible.” I concurred.

“Blowed himelf up with it.” Max thought on that for a moment and laughed.

“Didn’t realize Japan landed on Morolonago. It doesn’t have any strategic value.”

“Maybe the locals greeted them as they greeted you then left.”

“I think every local in Asia greeted the Japs that way. Never seemed to stop them from rolling in though.”

“Well they ain’t coming back here. We’ve barred the gate and set Jeb on watch. If they, the local tourism board or anyone else wants in then its tough shit all around.” And if I want out…

“It looks like we’ll remain over night; head out in the morning, though we’ll be working through the night. You can rest in one of the rooms in back if you like.”

As I opened my mouth to speak the shooting began.

“Huh, sounds like the welcoming committee has arrived.” Max smiled at his joke.

“Your guys have their hands full; maybe you could use some help in your evaluation.”

Max’s genially mood shifted. He placed his hands on the table with fingers steepled and smiled his most wicked grin which under the lamp light was a might bit disconcerting.

“That would be great except this is a dangerous, dangerous place.” Another shot punctuated the statement. “Can’t afford to lose our pilot now can we? I can fly but…” He chuckled softly, “I’d rather not.”

I nodded in agreement. As I did so I took a small metal thingy from one of my pouches and dropped it on the table.

“Not without this.”

“Whats that?”

“It’s from one of the engines. It may start without this but you won’t get very far.” Truth be told I think it actually came from a toaster oven; I tend to dump some really random widgets in the belt.

"Never leave the Cat without it."

“Smart girl.”

I shifted in my seat and let my right hand lightly rest on my bolo’s pommel. More shots outside, but we ignored them.

“I really don’t care what you’re here for. Looking for El Dorado, conquistadores treasure or maybe planning on opening a theme park, doesn’t concern me much but I don’t care none much for being jerked around. Especially not by people I consider my moral, hygienic and intellectual inferiors of which you are all three.”

“Woman, I’m fixin’ to give you the paddling your parents ‘parently didn’t see fit to.”

“No you’re not. You ain’t the right for one and you ain’t fast enough to take me down.”

“You have no idea who you’re dealing with.” He warned.

“Max,” I smirked. “John Maxwell.”

Max rose, hand on .45 but I was faster. The bolo flashed but stopped short of taking his arm. He froze in place, horror on his face. His ice blue eyes met my green and he knew it was no bluff. His hand thawed and he moved it away from the piece.

“Now’s the time for civility.”

“Didn’t peg you as one for civility Ms. Grumman.”

“Different brands for different folks, Mr. Maxwell. You’re a wanted thief, a treasure hunter who’s killed for convenience.”

“Allegedly.” He nodded knowingly.

“Allegedly.” I nodded back. “When I let folks on my Cat I make damn sure I know who they are. Now you offered me a hansome sum for the trip so I overlooked your past indiscretions.” I slowly began to sheath the bolo once again.

Max then made the mistake of cocky sonsabitches everywhere. The moment he thought I’d let my guard down he went for the piece. With a flip of the wrist the bolo went from about to be sheathed to a vicious wrist chop with the blade’s blunt side; not wasting a moment I shot my arm up and fed him the pommel, knocking him back, head first into the wall. He dropped like a sack, unconscious on the floor.


Rolling him for anything of value I first took his service pistol. It was cocked and on safe. Satisfied I shoved it into my belt. A few coins, nowhere near the rest of my payment, were in a trouser pocket as was Smith’s map. The yellowed parchment had some lines and directions written on it as well as notations in English and another unfamiliar language scribbled about it. It still gave me no clue as to what they were looking for here.

“Been a pleasure doing business sir.” I gave the unconscious man a small salute. “Thanks for flying GrummanAir.”

 

The Devil in the Dark

I threw open the front door and nearly ran into Jeb.

“Someone broke the lock and let open the gate!” He shoved past me and into the house.
“MAX!”

“On a siesta.”

The Indians were in the fort now, well over a dozen shoved their way in through the front gate. Like a split in the river they flowed right and left along the walls and seeped onto the parapets. Norton’s body was on the grass behind the gate, his head twisted at an unnatural angle.

Armed as I was there was no way I could fight my way out of this, they hadn’t caught sight of me yet so I ran behind the houses and into the dilapitated barracks complex. It was roofless, the outer walls still stood and the second deck was only partially caved in but within was a maze created by collapsed walls and debris, but a path could be cut through it and there was plenty of cover. Within it I hoped was a passage into Legaspi’s walls and therefore its underground tunnels and passageways where I could hide until the natives left.

Jeb began firing. He screamed wild taunts as he shot, drawing the attackers toward him.

Natives screaming war cries where at my back the moment I made it inside the barracks. No door and glassless windows let in arrows and darts, their swiftest hunters where at my heels. I turned and fired three shots rapidly, taking down the two closest behind me. Darts blew past my cheek. I ducked and shoved into a narrow crawlspace made by fallen support beams and a mountain of dusty debris.

I’d just squeezed through the crawlspace and came out through a mostly-collapsed doorway when my shirt caught on a protruding wire. I jerked free and the little crawlspace collapsed behind me, sealing me into a windowless and doorless inner room. The ceiling had been partially collapsed, the wood beams and crumbled rocks where spread all over the floor as well as red tiles from the roof.  The wood beams were too big for me to move by myself and nothing else was tall enough to reach the second floor.

A single beam ran across the hole above me. The night stars and full moon silhoutted it, a dark outline that I couldn’t tell if it was strong enough to take my weight. Not that it mattered; I’d no rope and my rifle sling wasn’t long enough.

It was now the swift moving hunter I’d seen earlier made his reapperance. He walked onto the beam, looked down at me in my helpless state and laughed. I pulled my Colt and I expected him to do the same with his blowgun, but instead he drew his bolo and leapt at me like an eagle swooping down for a kill.

He almost landed on me, his bolo aimed to cut off my gun hand as he came down, to repay me for what I’d done to his men. I blocked him with both hands, our right wrists met and I dropped the gun but deflected his striking arm and the blow with my left then struck his face with the palm of my right hand. The nose snapped with a wet crunch.

He drove his shoulder into with his full weight and we crashed into the wall. I side-stepped and circled him but he kept on me and lashed out with a shoulder-height swing and followed with a jab. I went to his outside again but he expected that and his feint jab came at me, a slice that missed me by centimeters.

That was all I needed, he was open and the momentum of his swing was away from me. I punched him in the Adam’s apple and grabbed his arm. We wrestled briefly before I could twist it around and disarm him.

I considered the combat all but over when he came back up with renewed strength, he threw a left-handed punch and from the way I’d had him in a lock broke his own right arm as he did so. All I saw were stars when it met my cheek; I hit the ground spinning and rolled twice before stopping on my bottom. 

The last time my head hurt this much was after a night on the town with some Sailors on shore leave after V-J Day. That time it was because of too much Tanduay, this time a relentless warrior, both proud products of the Philippines created specially to take you down a notch.

My scalp screamed when he grab a handful of hair and jerked me off the ground, manuevering me so my face and his knee could become acquianted.  I pulled away and my wild punch smacked him in the junk. This threw him off, causing his knee struck above my left breast, but he’d lost control of me and the blow glanced off.

“Hurts, don’t it?!” I mocked, though given the pain my own face was on it may have all run together as a mumble. He was on rebound and I finally had the room to unsheath my own bolo and end this. It was a lousy cut, lacking my usual force because my head was still swimming, but it did the job. It was a surprise when he leaned into it, my blade coming for his neck; he just straightened up and leaned in. Feebly he grabbed at me, getting only a fistful of shirt as I drove my blade into his abdomen. His dead wieght fell forward and we collapsed together even as my blade still protruded from his back.

Figures appeared above us, like spectators catching the end of a grisly baseball game. I stayed as I was pretending to be dead and hoping they’d assume we’d killed each other. They spoke to each other then sprinted away.

There wasn’t a moment to waste. I shoved the hunter off me. His hand still gripped my shirt and tore a few buttons as he did so.

“Dammit, I liked this shirt.” Imuttered.

He’d a blowgun and a large satchel pouch, both held with long chords. I tore them off, used part of his loincloth and together they produced a long enough rope for me to get over the beam. Before leaving I collected my pistol and cover. 

Still feeling a little off from the fight it took me two tosses to get it over. There was just enough ‘rope’ that I could reach up and tie the end that had gone over to the other side of the rope in a large loop. I strained as quietly as possible, trying not to groan or grunt loudly as I struggeled up the improvised rope. Every pull I felt the thread straining and tearing a little more. Almost to the top I was simply too heavy for it to hold any longer. I reached for the beam as the rope gave way. I was thankful when the splinters dug into my hand and chenneled all my energy into hanging on for life. I grabbed with the other hand then and swung myself sideways. My boot barely caught on the wood and straining hard I pulled myself all the way up onto the beam. The pistol fell from my belt with the final push up; it bounced off the dead hunter and clattered on the floor beside him. I swept back the loose hairs now clinging to my sweat-moistend face and looked down at it with tired eyes.

“You keep that.”

I was out of the hole I’d got myself in but nowhere near safe. I shook badly from the great physical strain of pulling myself up. The beam was only about two and a half feet wide, there was no way I could stand up to get across, so like a child on my hands and knees I crawled. Every time palm or knee or toe touched beam I could swear it groaned a little under my weight, the splinters and dust holding it together were jarred loose every time I moved. The whole time I had to look down, checking myself and where I set my hands. A nail through the palm and I was finished. I’d be back in the hole and this time there’d be no escape.

The beam could collapse and I’d be done. I could get hurt and I’d be done. Exhaustion could overtake me and I’d be done. My heart refused to slow and my body wouldn’t stop shaking the whole way across the beam. Reaching the end and solid enough ground I collapsed on the cold floor.

Voices prompted me back to action. I got up shakily and withdrew my bolo from its sheath. I was in a hallway, rooms lined one side and the other great big open windows looked down on officer’s houses and parade grounds of Legaspi. Small groups of men where still out there, moving around the grounds and houses. The voices where coming closer, one spoke rapidly as if telling a great tale, the other gave flat, emotionless responses. I ducked into the nearest room and hoped the floor wouldn’t give out on me.

The voices came past my door and then stopped for a moment. They began speaking again but the tone was different. I withdrew a small mirror from my belt pouch and used it to look around the corner. The two had their backs turned to me; the excited one had something in his hands. Then he held it up for the quieter one, an older and taller man. It was my hat.

“To Hell you do.” I whispered through gritted teeth.

The younger one lost his head without ever knowing I was there. The other turned around and took a bolo under the jawbone, angled up so the tip could tickle his brain.

I put my cover back on and tracedthe pair’s way back from where they’d come from.  The other barracks corridors where empty, though every so often I heard someone walk by outside. As a general rule I shy from killing, but in this case, hat or no, it was necessary. Couldn’t try to sneak out, leaving the pair at my back, and chance running into more of them and get caught in the middle. I took the stairs down and let myself out a gaping hole in the back. The alleyway between the barracks and fortress wall led to a small garden-like courtyard surrounding a curious hole in the ground. I hopped over barracks bits and went to check it out.

The ‘hole’ was a below ground chamber, entirely made of rough hewn stone.  A set of stone stairs led down into the open room. At the bottowm was a half-sized miniature door. It was made of iron bars like a jail cell but it was invitingly opened. It looked too small for my large frame but I heard more natives approaching so I had to chance it. I ducked, squeezed and contorted in, slowing only to shut the gate behind me.

         

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