Shortly after the War…

Two men rushed through a stilt shanty town over-hanging the Philippine Sea. It was high noon and the village bustled with activity. Filipino vendors crowded every inch of every thoroughfare hawking goods of every sort at American Sailors and Soldiers from the nearby Olongapo Naval Station. There were so many two puti fugitives could slip through village and over the water unnoticed. The first of the pair, Gene Mosley, was a swarthy man with no memorable qualities beside his battered fedora and sweat-soaked coat. He’d been hired by an up and coming politician to assassinate three of his rivals, including a respected former guerilla leader, which he and partner, Arthur Phillips, did without trouble. What they didn’t expect was a double cross. The crooked politico placed a massive bounty on their heads and the y’d been hunted like dogs for the past week.

Arthur was the antithesis of Gene; he was tall, lank and a shade darker than most Caucasians with dark hair and eyes. He was near broke and in a foreign land with nothing to his name but the clothes on his back and the Browning Hi-Power in his pilot’s shoulder holster.

Now past the bustlng marketplace they trod a narrow path of rickety, aged bamboo over the bluest water on Earth and hemmed in on both sides by the tightly clustered ‘buildings’ of rattan, wood and refuse, many with just enough ‘wall’ style material to support a roof.

Gene half-screeched, causing a few glances his way. He’d misjudged a step and his foot slid in the generous gap between the walkway and an open-sided home. An elderly Filipino paused and helped him pull his wet foot out. Gene kicked him for the trouble and threatened him if he ever touched him again. Arthur mentally noted his partner was an idiot and they continued a few minutes more before emerging at the village ‘water front’. Long skinny arms of bamboo protruded out away from the village, with tiny wooden outriggers and boats crowding every berth of the quay, a steady stream of them coming and going. 

“Careful.” Arthur muttered. They edged carefully down the longest arm, finally able to see their destination. Sitting at the end of the ‘pier’ was a PBY Catalina flying boat that dwarfed the mosquito fleet around it. As per the agreement with Gene’s contacts the plane was exactly what they had requested, but the woman beside it was not.

The slender, bespectacled stewardess greeted them in the local tongue as they came near, “Magandang umaga, mga kaibigan- sori!” She cut herself off and apologized in a chipper tone, “Magandang tunghali sa inyo mga kaibigan!” Despite the language her accent was clearly from Oklahoma.

“What is this?” Gene demanded. He moved toward her but she didn’t back down or attempt to avoid him. She just bounced on her heels and kept up the same stupid Pan Am smile. Only then did Arthur realize they were eye to eye, she was just as tall as he if not a hair more so. The little garrison cap perched on her head gave her an edge in height.

The stewardess wore a Navy blue skirt and matching, tight vest over a light blue dress shirt, all of which she filled out as only a woman could. Her auburn hair was pulled back into a bun and her eyes were a lively green.

“It’s the Manila to Shanghai Non-Stop Express Flight 83, boss!” She chirped. “You paid good money for this flight and Cap’n Matt E. Grumman believes in-”

The goon nearly knocked her in the water as he pushed his way into the plane. Arthur shrugged and followed him in. 

The Cat began her life as a very utilitarian military transport so the well appointed passenger cabin came as a surprise. A pair of over-sized leather seats awaited them, their rich brown complementing the standard pea green bulkheads. The large waist blister windows gave them an almost panoramic view of the world outside the plane. Soft jazz whispered in from the next compartment over.

Gene slung himself back into a seat and nearly passed out. He didn’t even care about his wet shoe anymore.

“So this a full service flight?” He asked the stewardess.

“The fullest.” She said.

 “Tell Cap’n Matt E. Grumman,” He emphasized the pretentious middle initial, “We like his style.”

“Can do!”

With that she disappeared into the cockpit, shutting the hatch behind her.

Gene let himelf sink into the chair. “After all these little women...”

“Kinda big nose though.” Arthur countered. He really didn’t care what the stewardess looked like. He just wanted to get out of the country. He knew some places they could disappear to in Shanghai.

“You were starin’ at the nose?”

“What? I’ll admit, she’s got a nose but she keeps the rest in proportion.”

“Yeah.”

They shared a laugh and relaxed. An engine roared to life, followed by a pair of bangs and finally the other. A gentle hum built as the plane moved to open water. The vibrations lulled the men to near sleep. The boat leapt from the water and they were off.

Lights came on within the cabin, fully waking the passengers and heralding the return of their stewardess.

“Hope that wasn’t too rough.”

“I’ve had worse.” Arthur shrugged.

“Grumman-Air prides itself on being smooth.”

Arthur noticed Gene couldn’t stop staring at the stewardess, “Really? And what about you?”

She flashed a smile again. “Lagi.”

“Bawk-ack.” Gene snorted. “I don’t speak chicken.”

“Actually that was hen.” She corrected. “Now who’s ready for their complimentary in-flight cocktail?”

“Singapore Sling.” Arthur mumbled.

His partner nodded in agreement. “Two.”

“Oops.” She said, almost blushing.

“What?”
“I’m sorry. I thought you were men, not little girls.”

“WHAT?!” Gene shot up, slamming his head into the cabin’s low ceiling. The clang of bone against metal amused Arthur to no end.

“I mean, what kind of wimp asks for a Sling when I can make you real Zombies!” The crazy stewardess announced, her sugary tone finally going too far. She had no idea how close she was to getting one right in the kisser.

“I’m serious! I can make it just like the Donn the Beachcomber back home.” She insisted.

“And what if you’re full of crap?” Gene spat. His head still throbbing he pulled off his fedora and inspected it. Arthur figured the new dent would never buff out.

“Then I’ll make it up to you.”

“How?”

Her response came low and suggestive, “However you want.”

He looked at Arthur and the man’s smug grin made him want to punch him too.

Gene sat back down. “Deal.”

She clapped her hands and bounded through the hatch. Leaning out Gene watched her move into the next compartment over working a shaker. It made him feel like a man just watching the motion.

“I used to be Donn Beach’s personal bartender y’know.” She shouted back to them over the drone of the engines.

“I think you’re full of bull lady.”

He heard the tell-tale sloshing of drinks being poured into mugs. Momentarily she appeared before him, a tall mug shaped like a shrunken head in each hand.

“Really? Because I know I’m full of bull.”

The stewardess handed her guests drinks and stood back, awaiting their verdict.

Gene eyed the mug then took a sip. It was definitely a Zombie. He nodded approvingly and drunk deeper, letting the liquor work its magic.

“It’s all about the Pernod really.” She explained. “Donn was way too into it.”

Forgetting about his throbbing head Gene relaxed and drink deep. “You’re an okay gal, but you’d be a better one if you know when to just shut the hell up.”

Arthur set his mug down and tried to relax. It had been a strange, long day for him and his partner. Personally he blamed Gene for the whole mess; it made him want to kick the dumb ape out of the Catalina. Gene’s blissful snoring only made him want to do it even more.

“Baboy.” The stewardes said cheerfully. She’d taken up a small jump seat besides the hatch.

Arthur shrugged, “He has his moments.”

“Why haven’t you tried your drink yet sir?” She asked.

“Not thirsty.”

“But if you let it sit too long it’ll get warm and melt, the flavors will fall apart and-”

“Then you drink it.” He thrust the mug at her.

Politely she declined and guided his hand back towards his face. “Sorry sir, I’m on duty.”

He pushed it back toward her. “I won’t tell Captain Grumman if you won’t.”

She took the drink and set it on his seat’s arm rest. “No thanks all the same. So whatcha boys been up to? ”

“Work.”

“Was it worth your while?” She leaned in closer to him and a nyloned knee touched his.

“I’ll tell you when I get paid.”

“So-”

Arthur cut her off abruptly. “I work in salvage.” He paused and readjusted himself in the seat. “Why do you care?”

She shrugged. “I bore easily.”

“The Japanese set half of Asia on fire then pissed on the ashes. I sift through the ashes for anything worth recovering.”

“Get your piss soaked hands on anything good?”

He set his hand on her knee.

Arthur smirked. “You could say so.”

Mattie delicately brushed his hand away. “You’ve had to have had better than that.”

“Strange.”

The girl paused, confused by the comment. “What?”

“That was the point you were suppose to slap me then leave me the Hell alone.”

She smiled her idiot smile, smoothed her skirt and left the cabin. Strange folk. He thought. Arthur tried to nod off again but something was… amiss. Her stupid Q&A was typical patter but it almost felt like she knew something particular about him and Gene…

Gene.

The idiot was drooling on himself like a child. Completely out cold after a slug of his drink.

Arthur tore off his safety belt and went for the trusty Browning that saw him through the war and more jams than he could count. He was fast on the draw but already too late. The smirking stewardess stood in the hatch, revolver in hand.

“You should have just had the knockout punch.”

“You said it was a Zombie.”

“Either way it’s a Mattie Grumman Special.”  Mattie Grumman. Not Matt E. Grumman. This was their pilot.

Without wasting another moment Arthur threw himself side long swatting the poison mug at Mattie. It hit center mass drenching her blouse and vest. She dropped the revolver and it went off when it hit the deck, firing a round into the vacant cockpit. Arthur drew his piece clear of the holster but Mattie recovered quickly, throwing her shoulder into his chest. Back met bulkhead, he fell awkwardly against the chair with the girl still flying forward.

Suddenly they fell against the floor, his body smothering hers. She grabbed his wrists before he could throw a punch.

“You killed the autopilot!” She yelled.

“You’re next!” Arthur shouted. Mattie struggled futily. He almost had a fist full back and she couldn’t manuever under him to push him off.

“Do you wanna die?! The autopilot is dead, we could crash!”

“Lady, I prepared to die a long time ago.”

The plane rolled over sharply tossing them both against the bulkhead. His face against a window Arthur saw the impeccable blue of the Philippine Sea swiftly rising to meet them.  Mattie saw nothing without her glasses, now lost somewhere in the cabin.

Mattie struck at the big blur in front of her. Unfortunately it wasn’t Arthur. Her fist flew past his head and landed on solid aviation grade American aluminum. She screamed as pain shot through her fist. Arthur grabbed her bad punching arm and they began to tumble. Mattie shouted what he assumed to be native profanities at him. The plane wobbled again sending both flying against opposite bulkheads. Gene meanwhile was still strapped into his seat and completely oblivious to the melee. A string of spittle flew across the cabin and got Mattie in the eye.

Arthur landed on a hatch and tumbled backwards over the knee knockers, Mattie landed on something metal. It was Arthur’s Browning. The last thing Arthur would see before his world turned black.

Arthur’s head throbbed. This was good, his subconscious decided as it meant he wasn’t dead; but he was still in a predicament. He was sitting on the chair again, but now with hands cuffed behind his back and legs tied together at the ankles. For some odd reason he was also wearing a Mae West. Gene was rigged up the same.

Mattie popped out of the cockpit with Arthur’s gun in one hand and a Zombie cocktail in the other. Her blouse and jacket were stained red from the drink, the vest hung open, missing its buttons and the little aviator’s wings on the garrison cap perched just so on her head dangled precariously. At least her glasses were intact.

“Hell of a shot huh? When I chucked the thing at you I didn’t expect to actually nail you.”

“Whatever you’re being paid to do this, we’ll double it.” Arthur offered, it was a long shot but he had to try.

Mattie quirke an eyebrow. “Magkano- How much money?”

“I’m in no position to bargain, make up a number and we’ll pay it.”

“10,000 dollars?”

Arthur looked at Gene. Still drooling.

“Yes.”

Mattie shook her head. “You know, it’s nice to meet people who value themselves so much these days. Most folks really low ball it, heck I even met a pilot once that claimed he was worth a sack of rice. At least that’s what the islanders traded him for.”

“Is it a deal or not?” Art demanded. Mattie smirked and shook her head in refusal. “You’re a real piece of work.”

“And he’s a wanted criminal.” She gestured at Gene. “You’re just an accessory though. Not worth much. A little fish like you I should just toss back.”

“Hence the Mae West.”

Mattie sat in the jump seat and sipped her drink. “Just right.” She approved then looked back at Arthur. “You know they say Gene is the fastest gun around.”

“Not at the moment.”

“Exactly! Pa once had to deal with the fastest gunslinger he knew, back in the Indian Territory, he reckoned he couldn’t outdraw him or even surprise him. So he tailed the feller to a saloon, let him get snackered then hauled him back. Shot him in the back for good measure too I believe.”

“Where does this leave me?”

“Something’s wrong with my revolver, so a proper back shooting is off the block for now. I didn’t know it would go off when it hit the deck.”

“It was a Victory model; they had a tendency to do that.” Art explained.

“I won’t be using that one again, but thanks for giving me this replacement.”

“You’re welcome.”

 Mattie checked her watch then set down her drink. “It’s time.” Mattie popped open the top half of the exit hatch. Wind whipped in and blew off her stupid little hat. They were less than 30 feet off the placid waves; little grey Filipino Navy boats trailed slightly behind the Cat. She waved to them and shouted. Then she popped open the hatch.

Arthur panicked as he realized what this stewardess/pilot/bounty hunter was about to do. “No! No! Please-”

She ignored his pleas but gave him a final sardonic smile, “Thank you for flying Grumman Air.”

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