The Amazing Adventures of The Emperor Number 4
THE EMPEROR IN
THE CITIES OF DANGER
Charles Lee Jackson II
I LOVE SAN FRANCISCO. I mean, Hollywood is home, and I love it, too (at least, my Hollywood, which is somewhat more 'forties than average). There are maybe a dozen other spots on the globe I treasure, but there's just something about San Francisco.
Actually, there are a lot of things about it, not the least of which is the presence of the winner of the nation-wide "CL's sidekick we want to see more often" contest, the lovely and talented Shanghai Lil.
After the trouble I'd had the last time I was in town, I'd bought a new æroplane, and had brought it down uneventfully at Gashouse Cove, where I'd been met by the beauty herself.
We were strolling along near Fisherman's Wharf a little later when we stumbled onto a young riot. Shanghai dragged me into the middle of the crowd, where two old guys were arguing over a basket-woven crab-trap, the sort of thing with a funnel-shaped opening, into which, but not out of which, the crustaceans can climb.
"Do something," Shanghai chided.
"Owl roight, owl roight," I spoke up, "whot's all this then?"
The two oldsters ignored me, but I clapped my hands together very hard. They turned to me. "What's the problem?"
"He's tryin' t' steal my crabs," both chorused.
"Wait a minute. You first," I said to the one on my right.
"I pulled up my crab pot, and this guy tried to take it from me!"
I turned to the other.
"He try steal my crabs an' I stop him!"
I addressed the crowd. "Anybody know whose pot it is?"
Despite the number of times that question must have been asked in The City, it got the same answer as always. Nobody knew.
I knelt beside the pot and opened the front. Three very uncomfortable crabs were jockeying for position inside.
"Any of you guys know whose pot this is?"
The crowd backed away from me. I stood up, and said, "These guys say they never saw either of you before, and they want to go home."
The two old guys backed away from me, too. Suddenly Shanghai and I were all alone on the pier. I looked at her. "Happy?"
She smiled. I hefted the pot and walked it to the edge of the Wharf, tipping the crabs back into the Bay. Shanghai and I watched for a moment.
Two of the crabs popped up to the surface a moment later, one clearly pointing at me before they vanished into the water.
Shanghai's eyebrows rose. "What was that?"
I gave her my most annoying smile and said, "That one crab asked, ‘who was that nice human?’ and the one that pointed said ‘That was no human, that was... The Emperor!’"
ON THE NORTH slope of what used to be called Mount Parnassus is an interesting little modified Queen Anne house, which, if it were not painted mauve with black trim, would seem perfectly ordinary. Of course, the place is far from mundane, as is its owner. It's the pleasant little pied-a-terre maintained in The City by yours truly. At street level are coach-house and steps to the second floor, wherein are living room, den, dining room, kitchen, et cetera. The top floor contains the master bath and a combination bedroom and solarium, depending on whether the drapes are drawn or not.
This morning they were open, and I lazed over breakfast, watching San Francisco come to life.
I leaned back, thinking how sensible a nap would be right then, just after breakfast, before I dressed for the day. But there's so much potential fun in San Francisco that I decided to greet the day wide awake. And then something happened to justify my choice.
Shanghai Lil waltzed in. (Shanghai Lil, of course, isn't her real name, but, as regular followers of these chronicles know, she protects her privacy under this evocative nom de guerre, the derivation of which, if you but knew her better, would be patently clear.)
She paused, looking resplendent in a calculatedly casual outfit: snug slacks and an oversized V-neck sweater made of silk, with her hair in a high ponytail with a big lace bow. What you'd call the "Gidget" look. I wondered who she though she was fooling. She gave my outfit – silver pajamas and black silk dressing gown – the once over, and gave me an appreciative whistle, saying, "My, aren't we grahnd this morning," in her best Eric Blore impression. "I'll bet you wowwed the maid."
"Not yet. Actually," I groused, "except for you, the only one that's whistled at me so far was some fellow out on the street, when I stepped onto the porch for the paper."
Shanghai surveyed the wreckage of my repast, and took up one of the extra cups from the breakfast service. She poured herself a cup, and gestured with the pot. "Tin-fresh cocoa, Emperor?"
"Thank you," I acceded. As she poured me one, I added, "But no buttered toast: you spread it on a little too thick."
Shanghai made a face, and went to the window, looking out toward distant Telegraph Hill as she sipped her cocoa. I left my cup and stepped up behind her, putting a hand on her shoulder.
She turned her head slightly, looking at me in her periphery. "Did you have plans for today, Emperor?"
I took a deep breath, trying to decide how to phrase my answer. But I never got to deliver it.
For just then the telephone chimed. That was puzzling. Very few people had the number, and if it had been business, surely I would have simply heard the dulcet tones of my communications chief Richmond, intruding upon my shell-like ears – my hearing is, well, better than average – directly.
Shanghai knew this as well as I. She gave me a quizzical stare. My return expression said, don't ask me. I gestured to indicate she was free to answer if she wanted. She did.
"Shanghai Lil's Palace of Amusements," she said with a straight face. I suppressed a chuckle. After listening a moment, she held the handset out to me.
"It's Ed Green."
I took the instrument with interest. Certainly my old pal Ed had the number: among other things, he was the liaison officer between the US military and The Empire. What could this be?
His familiar voice came over the wire. "Are you busy, Sire?"
"That's... not a question I like to answer."
"Well, I've been told to secure your coöperation on a matter of great importance."
"Skip the officialese, Sport. What's cookin'?"
"The old need-to-know, CL. They didn't tell me. But if you can make a meeting this afternoon, it'd be a swell gesture of inter-governmental good will."
I snorted. I'm sorry, but that's what I did. Ed's been my pal for a long time, but he's done an excellent job of fitting into the military establishment, and that includes slinging their particular brand of verbal hash. "OK," I said. "Where and when?"
He gave me the particulars, and I rang off.
Shanghai's big bright eyes gleamed. "Something interesting?"
"Don't know yet. Whatever I had planned for today will have to wait. Something's cooking. Could be trouble."
"Trouble's my middle name."
"I thought it was—." (I actually said a name here, but that would be a clew to her true identity.)
She made a face. I made for the closet to pick out a wardrobe. The housekeeper never got to see my outfit, at least not on me.
THE PALACE OF Fine Arts loomed artistically in front of me as I arrived for my rendezvous. That's sort of its point, these days, looming, that is. The original building had been built as part of the nineteen fifteen Panama-Pacific Exposition, a sort of World's Fair celebrating the City's recovery from the big 'quake. The vast complex had filled what is today the Marina district, with palaces of machinery, arts, and amusement. It was the last flower of an innocent, pre-World War America.
Today, painstakingly duplicated from castings of the original, a new Palace stands facing the wonderful Exploratorium, with a swell pond at its back, just east of the Presidio.
This was the spot selected as the location for a singular meeting with a prestigious collection of dignitaries. It was an amazing group, and about to become more so.
As Shanghai Lil and I approached, Ed Green broke from the pack and came up to us. He was in mufti, presumably so as not to attract attention. Just as well: His dress uniform, with sergeant's chevrons, doesn't reflect his actual rank, but is an official pretext to cover up his specialized duties. He had hardly changed in the years I'd known him, still fresh-faced and stocky. Oh, his hair is shorter these days, but after all, he is in the service.
Naturally, I had changed into something more suitable, black shirt and trousers, grey jacket and tie. Shanghai hadn't changed, except to don sunglasses.
As I performed introductions, I scanned the crowd he'd left. I recognized a man from the Mayor's office and a guy from Sacramento. Uniforms indentified a Coast Guardsman, a sheriff, and a US Marshal. Two women in suits were so obviously from the FBI that I couldn't believe their supervisor let them out into the field.
What could have brought together such a group? And what did they expect me to do?
THEN, FINALLY, THE last member of this group showed up, as one of the federal girls opened the door of a limo that pulled up. That G-girl stayed back at the curb, becoming a lookout, while her partner accompanied the last member of our group when he approached and shook my hand.
He was an assistant to the Secretary of State.
"Mister Jackson," he began, "my apologies for the delay. And my thanks for coming."
"I was beginning to wonder whose party this was," I commented.
"Actually, that's the problem. It's no one's party – and everyone's."
The inboard FBI woman cocked an eyebrow at Shanghai and her flouncy costume. "This is a rather sensitive matter. Should she be here?"
Shanghai bristled slightly. I sighed. "Well, I'm a very sensitive person myself. Anything too sensitive for my associate would, I'm sure, be too much for me." I gave my head a little shake. "Fiddle-dee-dee."
"Excuse me?" The Federalette asked.
"My associates are the most trustworthy and worthwhile people you'll ever meet." I mentioned Shanghai's real name and explained that she, "has taken time out of her busy schedule to be here. Anything you tell me I'd simply have to repeat, and excluding her now would be rude."
Ed Green spoke up. "She's worked with The Emperor on several occasions. I'm sure the Joint Chiefs would have no problem with her participation." That shut up the G-girl.
"Now," I asked, "what's the situation?"
The marshal spoke up. "The situation is what you'd call a jurisdictional problem. Over the last three months we've had a series of raids by some sort of pirate."
"Pirates are a Coast Guard matter."
"Until they strike the Sacramento waterway – and until they hit an FBI cargo – and until they attack a foreign freighter off the Farallons."
"We couldn't agree on who should supervise the investigation," the gentleman from State explained. "Someone suggested that you frequently visit this area, and might have an interest in the matter. We were able to agree to see if you'd let us pass you the buck."
I frowned. This was one trip to the City that had been entirely motivated by social intentions. Both Shanghai and I had some free time and had decided to spend it together. The last time we'd tried this, we’d ended up in the Bay, by way of Nevada. It had certainly been a fun time, but rather more of a work-out than I'd intended. I looked over at her. "Sounds like a sailor's lot. What d’ you think?"
"I think you'll look adorable in a Donald Duck suit."
I pondered that one a moment. Disney's duck doesn't wear pants. The assorted officials looked puzzled.
"She means that a little investigation won't interfere with our intended vacation. Let's hear the back-story."
They gave me a few pages’ worth of exposition, about a series of raids staged in the fog by a crew of modern pirates. Boiled down, it seemed that it had started with a small sailboat, which had been boarded by a half-dozen men in crisp blue uniforms – sans insignia – who had relieved the owners, husband and wife, of money, food, water, clothing, kitchen utensils, and chandlery.
Private boats at dock had been similarly burgled. County-supervised ferries had been stopped and shaken down. The Red-and-White to Alcatraz was next. Then bigger vessels were included in the circle. Osaka Maru, a freighter out of Japan, had been knocked over, and not without difficulty, by a force of fifty.
Easily stored, non-perishable foodstuffs had topped the list of items stolen, with tools, rope, haberdashery, and fuel oil close behind. Drinking water and some currency had been taken, but seemed incidental.
Whenever possible, life had been preserved. No one had been killed, though one man was reported missing, and only three people had been shot, brave men who had opposed the pirates.
The pirates all wore beards, and blue uniforms. They sounded like the crew of Disney's Nautilus. Descriptions of the pirates all included these facts, but tended toward vagueness on other points.
Since the various authorities all had an interest, each had tried to take charge. And each had resented the same action on the part of the others. They'd been arguing for a week – well, they said discussing – when somebody suggested me. Thanks, somebody.
"...Sounds like we're going sailing, Shanghai."
That G-girl gave Shanghai a rude stare and pointed out, "We can't be responsible for injury to civilians, Mister Jackson."
Shanghai cocked her head to one side, flouncing her ponytail, and pulled down her shades with one finger, eying the Government woman over the frames, and frowned.
I shot her a sidewise glance and addressed the Federalette. "Nobody's responsible for Shanghai but herself, and maybe me, slightly," I said. "She'll be of considerable assistance in this matter."
"How do you know?"