Part IV: Disclosure by Campfire
We made our eventless escape from the underground through a toy store. Arlene took me back to my Catalina, hidden in an inlet along the Straits of Juan de Fuca. I introduced her to Bong, my oldest friend and flight engineer who’d been tending the plane while I was in town. He’d set up a nice camp in a clearing by our Catalina and was tending a fire when we arrived. Late as it was he excused himself and went back to the Cat for a nap, telling me to wake him when we were ready to fly. Giving his advanced age and need for rest I figured we could wait a few hours, besides I and Arlene hadn’t had proper time to just talk with each other yet. I couldn’t think of a better place to do so than out here in the Pacific Northwest on a clear night, especially after a day of running around and getting into fights. If the infernal ringing in my ears would die out I could enjoy the sounds of nature but even with a clogged nose I could still savor the sharp scent of pine and the sweet smell of kindling set aflame. It beat a gasoline fueled store fire at the very least.
Sitting besides a crackling fire under a glowing moon and surrounded by towering evergreens Arlene and I spent several hours catching up more fully. Around the third or fourth round of Tiger beer I gave her the full story of my involvement in the hunt for Jim Chafee, late of Seattle, Washington.
“Chafee stole classified files from a military attache in Manila, they were to be used for war crimes trials. Without these documents a few dozen mass-murders may go unpunished, by the law anyway.” Absent-mindedly I touched the massive horse pistol still strapped to my side.
Arlene nodded very slightly. “This was all worth it then.”
“Sadly, no. The satchel was full of blank paper.”
“He’d already handed it off. Thinking about it, he may have given it to the woman who walked out on him right before we got him. Her purse looked fuller when she left then when she’d gotten there, a fact I stupidly overlooked.”
“Or maybe it was a figment of your active imagination.” If she hoped her words lessened the sting of my realization she was wrong. “Like, you know…”
Like what we’d seen underground. “Yeah, like that, except far less helpful and far more damaging.”
A cold breeze sent a shiver up our spines. I offered her one of the Cat’s blankets but she shook her head then said. “In the bank you said a name. Tsujimoto.”
“Who is he?”
Air rasped between my teeth as I took a shallow breathe. “The man I'm hunting on behalf of the Philippine government, at least until the situation changes. Lieutenant Colonel Heihachiro Tsujimoto…” I began reciting his life and career highlights by rote in a voice of cold, evenly metered ice. “He was born in Nagasaki…” A shame he wasn’t home last August. “On the day of Togo’s victory over Russia, May 29, 1905. Graduated with honors from the Imperial War Academy in 1927 and commissioned into the Imperial Japanese Army.”
“He was a member of Japan’s ill-fated Mongolian campaign and missed out on the Rape of Nanking but made up for it over the next two years.” Another sharp breathe. It was hard to keep from raising my voice. “He was responsible for the murder of about twenty-thousand Chinese civilians.”
“In 1941 he was on General Homma’s staff and took part in the invasion of the Philippines where he was had a definite, physical hand in every atrocity committed there.” I stopped abruptly. I had hammered each word individually in the last statement, raising my voice with each.
The last few words spilled from my mouth almost all at once. “Then he was sent to Singapore to perform more of the same. Somewhere along the way he ate some American airmen. Still not sure how many.”
Arlene mouthed words I couldn’t hear. I paused the story to light up a cheroot.
“In August of last year he disappeared. At the time he was attached to an Intelligence unit operating out of the Philippines. I believe he fled south to Borneo upon Japan’s surrender and made his way to the mainland via native boats.”
“But they’ve caught him now, right? That’s what the dossier was for, his trial?”
“He’s not getting one. The dossier was ordered sealed. He resurfaced in Nationalist China about three months ago. The Nationalists liked the idea of having an under-handed bastard intelligence agent they can use against the ChiComs so they gave him a full pardon, the Americans and British are thinking of following suit. That’s what was being talked about in Manila.”
She didn’t believe me. The idea that such a monster could be pardoned by anyone with the knowledge of what he’d done. “How do you know all this is true?”
“The thing about bloodily cutting down everyone in your path is that it leaves a lot of grieving relatives and friends. With a little help from them I personally followed up on most of his trail, meeting the witnesses that’d been brought to Manila and doing a few other things that may not be purely legal. Two months back in Jesselton, on Borneo, I’d even been close enough to read a snatch of it, but I wanted to get Chafee too, and in the end lost them both.”
“The rest of the files in that satchel I’d intended find their way back to Manila but Tsujimoto’s I was going to keep a back up of. In case they did pardon him. If that happens I’ll hunt him till he’s met justice at the tip of a bolo or the barrel of a revolver.”
I’d learn later that Thomas Finney, Jim’s young associate, attempted to flee soon after we’d went underground. He pulled himself up using the fire escape railing and lost his balance. He plummeted four stories and the sight of him splattered all over the sidewalk drew all the initial police attention that would have otherwise been on us. The police had ruled what went on between him and Jim was a quarrel over a prostitute they’d went Dutch on. When they approached said tall and beautiful Amazon in the bar downstairs her next John, a burly Marine combat veteran came to her aid and beat the two cops senseless. Or so the story went. There was no mention of Jim Chafee.
Arlene quit Pan Am and using some contacts I was able to put her in touch with a friend of a cousin of my kuya (Tagalog for older brother, or in this case, old friend) who worked at a scrap yard tearing apart beautiful and still ready to fight warbirds. A deal was struck and some sponsors were convinced to back her. Arlene Clementine’s Bearcat, “Fifi”, would go on to win the Bendix cup and the Powder Puff Derby.
During the last part of the War I and a group of guerillas hunted down war criminals and collaborators. Some of these other hunters went on to hold positions in the Philippine government and military which is how I got the job trying to take down Tsujimoto and recapture the dossier. Having failed to get it back and getting no closer to finding him I was taken out of the hunt, but not before expending so much of my own resources that I was near broke. After the Tsujimoto debacle I officially moved on and began earning money moving cargo and passengers around the islands, specializing in taking people to dangerous, remote or hard to access locations.
Heihachiro Tsujimoto got his pardon from the American and British governments. But not from me.