Part III: Seattle Underground

The basement was at the bottom of the stairs and behind a heavy wooden door, a padlock dangling from a latch and partly open. The pain in my knee had almost subsided though my hearing was still shot. This worried me. My survival in Japanese-occupied Philippines for a year was due to a number of factors, not the least of which was my ability to hear my enemy’s slightest sound, his footsteps as they sloshed in mud or even dully against hard-packed dirt, the crinkle of a food tin being opened in a bivouac, the click of a bayonet being locked into place or the subtle clink of bullets tapping lightly against each other. Now I had just my myopic sight and gut instinct to see me through as I prepared to enter a confined space. I’d brought the Browning to deal with the possibility of a shootout if it came to it, but I was down to the percussion revolver with four remaining shots.

I crouched and peered in. It was a basement turned wine cellar with dim yellow illumination provided by a tarnished chandelier missing half its bulbs. Rows of booze-filled shelves were arranged in two neat aisles and wine racks rimmed the walls. Strangely it was also painted a deep red, though the paint was peeling and gone in many places. A few gilt-frame tintype cowboy photos occupied space between shelves on the walls. Ornate wooden columns, like the ones upstairs, dotted the space. The basement décor didn’t make any sense but as it wasn’t trying to kill me I didn’t stop and ponder why. No Chafee in sight I pushed open the door and ran through for the cover of the nearest shelf.

Inside the basement made even less sense. The far end of the room definitely had wide windows, at least before they’d been bricked over; flanking a metal door. All down the center aisle between the booze shelves and leading to the door broken bottles lay in pools of fresh spilt hard liquor. I doubted the barkeep would have done it but why would Chafee? I was considering the possibility of a ruse when a hand from the other side gently pushed the door a little open. A homeless bum peered in at me then left.

Going through the metal door I came into not to another room but to a wide sewer tunnel. I was underground but found myself standing outside the saloon’s exterior, a fine example of turn of the centure architecture with Romanesque touches such as faux columns embedded in the walls and capped with flowery flourishes. Alongside it in a row were two more store fronts with the same building style, boarded over windows and doors. The ground was uneven concrete covered in a light layer of mud. Numerous pipes ran overhead, mounted to the ceiling. From up there also came natural light from skylights, grids of little purple crystals that let in light from the city above. Presently Arlene struggled against Chafee at the mouth of a tunnel at the end of the stores. He had a knife on her, though it didn’t seem to matter much to her.

“Drop her or I drop you Chafee!” I ordered. I drew down on him but with Arlene in the way I couldn’t chance the shot. He grabbed hold of my friend tightly and held a knife to her throat.

“I’d like to see you try.” He said. “Drop it or I drop her.”

“And give you all the bargaining power?” I shook my head at the idea. “We’re at an impasse and seeing as how the police are on their way I suggest we end it quickly.”

His face dropped at the word ‘police’. He pulled back into the inky black tunnel with his hostage. A moment later Arlene tumbled out of it and onto the ground. I came to her side, still sighting down the tunnel but he’d disappeared into it.

“Can you hear him?” I asked tersely.

“Do what?” Arlene groaned as she lifted herelf off the ground. Her fine blue uniform had been torn and muddied. “This has been a fine day.”

“And it’s about to get finer if we don’t hurry along. The police may already be here.”

She barely got out a ‘good’ when I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into the tunnel after me. I rapidly explained out predicament and wished to God my eyes would adjust to the darkness faster.

“How did you end up down here?” I asked in a hushed tone.

“Well, while you took the long way around I followed Jim down the fire escape.” Then she chided, hitting my old sore spot, “You know, for a pilot I still find it odd you have a fear of heights.”

“I don’t fear heights- I fear falls. Big difference.”

“Same result: Mattie can’t ride the Ferris wheel and she can’t keep up with the bad guy.”

“How did that whole keeping up with the bad guy thing work out for you? Did it end with a knife at your throat?”

 “He surprised me in the cellar,” she said indignantly. “And sprung on me from behind a shelf with that over-compensating knife of his.”

“It wasn’t that big a knife.”

“And for him it’s still over-compensating.” She stressed.

 “I’m just impressed you kept up with him. Must be nice not limping.”

We turned with a kink in the tunnel, at the end I saw more underground city.

“It is. It’s very nice. It’s almost as nice as being a fugitive.” She replied.

I snarked back, “and here I was thinking you’d enjoy the new experience.”

“That’s not funny.”

“Sorry, that wasn’t in the plan but then again neither was killing a man or beating two cops.”

I couldn’t see her expression but I heard the bewilderment in her voice. “What have we gotten into?”

“About to ask you the same, what is this place?”

“Old Seattle. The land level was raised at the turn of the century making all the second floors the new ground floors and the ground floors basements.”

“I saw a hobo.”

“It was condemned in 1907, just a bunch of homeless, bootleggers and assorted undesirables down here now.”

“In other words Chafee’s come home.”

We exited the tunnel at a run-down Turkish bath house, it’s once electrified sign now dangled bulblessly in the breeze.

“Could use one of those.” Arlene grumbled.

There was a tunnel leading away from the building both east and west, but even using my own expert tracker intuition I had nothing to tell me which one Chafee took.

“Sorry I got you into this,” I told Arlene. She just shrugged. “We may have lost him.”

I was swearing profusely in every language I knew when suddenly the bath house doors flew open and a flock of homeless poured out. The panicking mob flowed as a single human mass from the door to the right hand tunnel. Then a lone pant-less bum strode out, grinning ear to ear and picking his teeth.

“You ladies met Jesus?” He asked.

“Is Jesus a blonde man carrying a satchel and wearing a rain coat?”

He spat the pick at my boots. “Nope. He went that away.” He thumbed toward the left hand tunnel.

I tipped my hat in thanks. “Much obliged. Do say hello to Jesus for me if you see him.”

“You don’t see him, he’ll see you.” He said, casually strolling the way his flock went.

 

Stopping to check the ground beneath the skylights in this tunnel I confirmed someone had ran down here recently. There were deep footprints spaced far apart in the mud. Maybe it was someone else he’d scared off, or maybe it was Chafee. Out of the tunnel and into the next Gay Nineties time capsule we wandered into Heinkel’s General Store, if the name on the tattered awning was to be believed.

Arlene turned up her nose as we came out of the tunnel. “We must be under a gas line.”

“Take your word for it, this damn city’s blocked up my nose with a cold.”

I should have taken Arlene’s words as a warning but it was at that moment I saw Chafee’s rain coat through a crack in the store’s window. His face was obscured by shadows and he was standing in a corner, trying not to be seen. This time I didn’t wait or even try to take him down. I sushed Arlene and pointed at him. Wordlessly I raised the Walker and aimed for his shoulder. I wanted him incapacitated but still able to walk.

Perfect. Ease back on the trigger-

The Walker’s report boomed then echoed through the chamber and Chafee fell. I rushed into the former genral store, and took aim again. A mannequin wearing Chafee’s jacket lay on the ground. With us inside the store the real Chafee, outside in another connecting tunnel, lit a match and set off the gasoline that soaked the ground.

The fire spread rapidly, blocking off both tunnels and filling the underground chamber with deadly black smoke. Arlene and I rushed through the old store looking for anything of use to stop the fire or an exit. The stairs topside had been cemented over and there wasn’t a single fire extinguisher in the store. All it contained was broken industrial machinery and mechanical bits. Outside the fire licked at the store’s facade. It wouldn’t be long before the flames came in. The building was brick, but the floor and porch were wood.

Arlene took off her jacket and flailed it at the smoke coming through the door, trying to keep it back with little result. Despite the perspiration-inducing heat a cold chill ran down my spine as I realized our options down here were being burning alive by the growing crackling fire, having super-heated air scorch our lungs and die of asphyxiation or survive all that to choke to death on the smoke.

“I hate Seattle.” I muttered.

“What?” Arlene choked out.

“I hate Seattle!” I yelled.

“I’d like to hear you say that in the spring.” She quipped back.

“Especially underground.” Then it hit me. Underground.  Heinkel’s store had none but outside, where the fire was, pipes lined the overhead.

Arlene still batted furiously at the flames with her black, smoldering uniform jacket. There was less smoke where she’d been fighting the fire. Behind the dimmed flames I could have sworn I saw a man, the homeless one from the saloon cellar. I blinked back sweat that rolled into my eyes and he was gone, a random figment of my imagination. Directly above where the figment had been I caught the glint of metal. I ordered Arlene to duck and fired upon it with the Walker.

A wave of nauseous fumes hit us as the sewage line sputtered brown waste uselessly on the fire.

“Hay naku ay buhay,” I muttered. Seeing another glint through the smoke, hopefully not from the same line, I lined it up and fired. Water sprayed out and hit the fire. The line burst when I emptied more rounds into it. The resulting flood killed the fire almost instantly, a giant steam cloud was left in its wake.

“Well…that happened.” I deadpanned. “Thanks for clearing the smoke; I wouldn’t have been able to make the shots if you hadn’t.” I told Arlene.

She smiled and said, “Thank me with Jim’s reward money.”

 

After leaving us to die horribly Jim Chafee took off for the end of the line, an old bank. The tunnel had no other ways in or out. Decrepit now, this one had been elegant once. Its red bricks laid in intricate patterns and raised to form evenly spaced columns, each with flowery tile at its head. Iron bars with tips resembling flower buds still gaurded the glassless-windows. Like a gaping maw the entrance was open, both doors missing. Faded green paint outlined the windows and entrance. A rusting sign at my feet read ‘FIDALGO BANK’. 

Whereas the tunnel had the skylights the old interiors lacked illumination besides what wafted in from the corridor. Crossing the bank's threshold I dimly made out wooden columns that supported higher floors and a gilt roof that’d since had all the brass stripped off. The floor was sickly yellow tile. Teller’s cages rimmed the room. A weak breeze I’d not noticed before drifted about my legs causing an involuntary shiver. It fluttered briefly and returned. The disrupted flow of air I suppose is what set me off.

I swung to my left and pointed the revolver at a teller’s cage. A dishvelled homeless man that’d been crouching behind the cage stood up and cast an evil eye at me. He looked kind of like Joe from Bill Mauldin’s GI comic strips. Or maybe Willie.

“Hi Joe. Where’s Willy?” I said in a friendly tone. “By the way, seen anyone suspicious run by here lately?”

He said nothing but stepped backwards, further into the teller’s area. He maintained the hard stare as he did and it began to unnerve me. The air grew very heavy.

“Hey boss, you know it’s impolite not to answer the girl holding a gun on you, y’know?”

He didn’t reply. My free hand tapped the anting-anting, a beat-up old coin that wards against evil, in my pocket. As I did he seemed to merge into the shadows, the hard gleam of his eye all that remained visible. Then I realized the glint came from not from an eye but brass on the wall. My blood ran cold.

Arlene and I traded looks. She shook her head.

We edged past an extremely cold spot by the teller’s cage but otherwise had no trouble in the lobby. Behind the cage were a collection of dusty, empty offices in a long hallway. Rounding the bend we came to the vault door. A sliver of weak light came from inside.

Weapon at the ready I crept around the corner and saw Glenn Adix standing in the vault. He stood over the fallen form of a man, his back then turned to me. My point of aim naturally went to his head and I pulled the trigger.

Click.

The hammer fell on an empty chamber. I was out of ammunition. Adix turned and looked at me with wry amusement and pointed a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum at my chest. From the glint in the chambers I knew he was not empty.

Shadows in the dim light gave his face a demonic outline, trickles of blood from where I’d bashed his forehead glistened like horns. He spoke with a croaky rasp, most likely since I bashed in his voice box in our fight. "Dead man's click, Tilly Jane?"

My response was a shrug. He snickered.

I joined in the mocking laughter. "Can I have four minutes?"

He rasped out a louder laugh. "Reloading that quick now are you?"

"On a good day."

"Sure ain't one of those. Welcome back to the party, Tilly Jane.” He smiled evilly. “Come on in, someone here’s been dying to see you again.”

Glenn had me toss him my horse pistol then ushered us into the vault where we were reintroduced to Jim Chafee; or at least his corpse. He was face up on the ground, his face frozen in a mask of horror. Blood flowed freely from the gunshot in his forehead. His satchel, the real prize, lay beside him.

“I’m impressed Glenn, did you track him all by yourself?”

“Why track when you have a dog for that?” Then he clarified. “Or a bitch in your case.”

Learning he’d followed me made my face redden. “You lazy son of a bitch.”

“Lazy? Don’t be a sore loser Tilly Jane. You wouldn’t call the butcher lazy because he didn’t hunt the animal himself.”

“I wouldn’t?”

Arlene interjected, “What’s wrong with you people?”

Her outburst amused Glenn. “She’s nice; I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced.”

“Glenn, Arlene. Arlene, Glenn.”

“Now, I passed you two when Jim set your store on fire and had just enough time to shoot him myself before you jumped me. Not enough time to get what I came for, so would your little friend be kind enough to toss me that satchel?”

My fists and teethed clinched. “Little friend, satchel.” 

She was spooked by Jim’s lifeless corpse but did as told and gingerly pulled the satchel’s shoulder strap off the body. Free of the corpse she tossed it at Glenn’s feet. He smiled wickedly.

“I thought you were on his side.” I said.

“I was. Then some people made me a better offer.”

 “Which people?”

“That would be telling.”

My heart skipped a beat. “You know where Tsujimoto is?”

“Tsuji-who?” Arlene asked. We both ignored her.

“I know where my money will be when I give it to him, that’s all I care about.”

“What good’s money when he kills you too?”

Glenn threw the satchel over his own shoulder. “Kill me? You’re too untrusting Tilly Jane. Anyone ever tell you that?”

“You have no idea who you’re dealing with. There’s a file in the satchel that’ll tell you everything you need to know.”

He ignored my warning an gestured with his gun barrel to a spot a few paces. “Stand there. I need to make it look like you two shot each other.”

“He’s murdered tens of thousands.” I pleaded. “He’s eaten people for Christ’s sake.”

My words again fell on ears deafer than my own. “You know what’s funny in all this? If you hadn’t shown up I was going to do him in myself in the hotel room. Instead now, I’m going to gut shoot you-” I involuntarily cringed. That was the worst way to get shot. “Then maybe a second to the femoral artery, just to make sure you don’t get out of this and as for your little friend… I’m sure we can think of something.”

“Like shoot me too?” She said. “Since that’s the limit of your creativity?”

“You don’t want me getting creative.” He warned. “Stand aside.”

I was where he wanted me, the body of Jim Chafee between us and looking down the barrel of the .357 for the last time. My fists clinched at my sides; through my skirt I lightly tapped the anting-anting in my right pocket, little good that could do me.

“And what if I don’t?”  Arlene shouted. She put her hands on her hips and took a step closer to Glenn. He shifted his aim to her.

“Then it’s two for one night after…”

Without cause the room temperature dropped drastically and I shuddered. So did Glenn and Arlene.

“What the hell?” He said then looked past Arlene and me. His aim wavered and he seemed to be caught between three targets now. I couldn’t see who he was talking to but I had a good idea. “Who the Hell are you?”

When he took the gun off me and aimed at Arlene I knew I could take Glenn down but now the opening was perfect. Glenn was still too far to charge, to do so he’d ample time to turn the weapon back on me. Instead I pulled the anting-anting from my pocket and flung it at his head. Before being blessed by a shaman it had begun life in 1909 as an American-minted Filipinas Peso. Being made of silver the big coin was very heavy.

He yelled and let loose a shot when the big coin slammed into his eye. I crashed in behind it and slammed into him as hard as I could. We wrestled for control of the .357 for a furious moment before I pushed it back into his nose. His finger still inside the trigger guard he accidentally squeezed again, this time sending a round across his own forehead.

Blood sprayed on and about me, I dropped him and jumped back. Eyes-wide open with shock Glenn stared at me; more to the point, his blood on me. He blinked back the crimson flow as it poured over and on his eyes. He wiped his eyes quickly then stared at the wam liquid coating his hand, still in disbelief he rolled his thumb on the bloodied palm as if to verify it was real. For my part I said watched and said nothing. He mouthed words then cast his gaze back on me.

“I’m…I’m…I’m…” He stuttered. Glenn touched the forehead wound with his clean hand and when it came back red said, “Oh dear.”

 With that he feinted, dropping to the ground like a blood-gushing stone. For one of the few times in my life I had nothing to say about the situation. So I was lucky to have Arlene with me.

“What’d he expect to see?” She asked. “Water?”

I said nothing but collected the satchel and my anting-anting from the ground. The figure of Lady Liberty at a forge, an active volcano behind her, was reflected back at me. Wiping dirt from it I touched it to my heart briefly and uttered a word of thanks to a caring God and restowed it in my left pocket.

Then it struck me that I always carrid the coin in my left pocket, not my right, but when I needed it that was where it was.

“Mattie, are you going to be okay?” Arlene asked with much concern.

“Yeah…” I took a deep breathe and let it out slowly. Then I laughed weakly. “Remember that crazy hobo?”

“The hobo?” She eyed me like I was insane. “What does the hobo have to do with any of this?”

“Remember what he said? I think we met Jesus.”

         

(C) 2011, 2012 D. Krigbaum      Contact: jakelivescomic@yahoo.com      Comfortably Numb      Red Skirts