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NORBERT DAVIS

JAPANESE SANDMAN

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First published in Short Stories, 25 October 1942

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-11-24
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Short Stories, 25 October 1942, with "Japanese Sandman"


Illustration

I

IT WAS, according to those who should know, an Early California Colonial Ranch Bungalow with a miniature picket fence and one three-year-old artificially hopped-up pepper tree in a front lawn complete with an automatic sprinkler system. It was also, in case you have never visited California, a small home that was neat and dignified and individual and worthy of its owner's pride.

Morris Harley came in very late for him—9:30—and coasted the truck into the garage and then tip-toed up the pressed gravel drive to the glassed-in rear porch and through it to the neat Pullman-style kitchen.

"Honey—" he said in a theatrical undertone.

"Oh, Honey."

"Morrey."

Morris tip-toed, a little more confidently now, through the breakfast-room—not nook—and across the living-room, dining-room, patio—all one—to the master's bedroom and opened the door,

"How do you feel, Honey?"

"Oh, rotten, I've been whoopsing all day, just all day without stopping, Morley. I feel awfully glick. Morrey, I'm not going to be one of those dumb ones we've laughed about, am I? I'm not going to want strawberries with lobster sauce, please, do you think?"

"No, Honey," said Morris. He came closer to the bed, feeling his way cautiously in the darkness. "But—but can I get you anything else?"

"Oh, Morrey, you fool! You're scared!"

"I'm not!" said Morris. "Well, all right, I am. Yes, sir. I'm damned scared. Please, Honey. Is—is there anything I can do?"

"Morrey, Morrey, did you worry about me today? All day—when you were out running your little truck?"

"My God!" said Morris. .

Virginia Harley laughed and laughed. "Oh, Morrey! I'm all right. I'm just being a softy. That's our trouble, haven't you heard? We're too soft. Here I've got a good practical nurse and housekeeper and a doctor and a clinic that we've saved for. And just think of all the wonderful strong peasant women who have their children at the end of one furrow and go on and plow the next."

"You stop saying things like that," Morris said miserably.

"Oh, Morrey! You stop worrying! Now go and have your dinner. I told Doris just how to leave it for you. The chopped steak is in the frying pan with the right amount of grease—please, Morrey, don't put any more in—and the potatoes are all sliced right beside it, and there are some grated carrots and a half-head of lettuce. Oh! O-o-oh!"

Morris had got halfway—ten paces—to the kitchen, nodding in the automatic and long-suffering way of all husbands, when he heard that last. Exactly a second later he was beating on the bathroom door.

"Honey! Honey! Are you all right?"

"Shut up and go away."

"Honey! Shall I call the doctor?"

"Morrey, if you dare—Go and eat your dinner and behave yourself!"

II

IT WAS very late now—or very early—and the false dawn was poking its wan, thin fingers through the slats of the Venetian blinds.

"Yes," said Morris Harley, starting suddenly awake, blind with sleep. "Yeah, Honey."

He reached out automatically, fumbling for the electric alarm clock, and it wasn't there.

His fingers slid along smooth, hard-twill khaki trousers.

"What?" said Morris. "What—"

"Yes."

"My God," said Morris, not believing for a moment that be was really awake. "It's old Pingo-Pongo."

"Sit up very slowly, please. Hands on the outside of the covers. Both hands."

Illustration

"What?" said Morris. "This is—"

"No," said old Pingo-Pongo. "This is not a dream. You are seeing me, and I am here, and this is a gun."

Morris, swallowed hard. "You talk—much better than you did at the pit."

"I find it convenient to do so."

Morris swallowed again. "I thought—thought you were—I mean, when you didn't come to work any more, we all thought you were in a camp with the other Japs—"

"I'm afraid you underestimated me," said Pingo-Pongo.

"Yes," said Morris sincerely. "My God, yes."

Pingo-Pongo chuckled. "Thank you. It is really a compliment to me." He was smiling, but his teeth did not protrude, and he did not hiss his s's or roll his r's, and he did not bow. He was as sleek and deadly as a cobra, and not any more near-sighted. "Did I deceive you to that extent?"

"Yes," said Morris numbly. "I thought you were just a funny little guy trying to get along."

"How humorous," said Pingo-Pongo. "It is like my name. That is a joke, too. Your fellow workers and drivers explained it to me. They could not pronounce heathen languages and names, so they called me Pingo-Pongo. Isn't that immensely funny?"

"Well—" said Morris.

"What?" said Virginia drowsily. "What, Morrey?"


PINGO-PONGO had a fat, short .38 special revolver, and he put it right up against Morris Harley's nose. Pingo-Pongo was smiling. He was quite amused.

Morris made his voice work. "It's nothing. Honey. I guess I was having a nightmare. Go back to sleep."

"Why?" asked Pingo-Pongo. Virginia rolled over carefully. "What did you—Morrey!"

"Honey," said Morris. "It's all right. Everything is under control. This is a fella that used to work with me at the gravel pit. He—he's a Chinese fella."

"She is your wife," said Pingo-Pongo, "and no doubt you are the best judge in such matters, but I hardly think she is that much of a fool."

"No, I'm not," said Virginia. She eased herself up toward the head of the bed, panting a little. "You're a Jap. What do you want here? What do you want with my husband?"

"A small matter," said Pingo-Pongo. "He will perform it, and then he will be safe, and he can come back to you and roll over and bark and wave his paws like all other American dogs do."

Virginia said, "You can't—"

"One moment," said Pingo-Pongo. "You are raising your voice just a little bit. It would be so unwise if you did it any more. I forgot to introduce my companion. His name is Alfred. There."

He was standing thickly and solidly in the shadows at the head of the bed on Virginia's side, and the dim light made a futuristically menacing mask of his face.

"He is German," said Pingo-Pongo. "And very stupid—as is only to be expected. But he has enough of the—shall I say?—instinct for self-preservation so that he obeys orders when they are given by his superiors. Heil Hitler!"

"Heil Hitler!" said Alfred.

"Do not laugh at him," said Pingo-Pongo. "He actually believes that supreme stupidity. He cannot, I'm happy to say, speak Japanese or English or Spanish or any other civilized language. You must speak to him either in German or in sign language. But really, for a German brain, he is very quick at sign language. Watch."

Pingo-Pongo put the back of his left hand delicately against his mouth and then pointed at Virginia. Alfred moved as instantly and unquestioningly as a mechanical man. His thick arm flipped out, and there was a sharp slapping sound.

Virginia's head thumped against the head of the bed, and a thin little trickle of blood oozed over her lower lip. Pingo-Pongo's eyes gleamed watchfully under their hooded lids. Morris sat as rigid as a man made of ice.

Pingo-Pongo chuckled. "I'm afraid you are a coward, Mr. Harley. According to all your motion pictures and novels and stories, you must immediately arise and smite the horrid, horrid aliens who have dared to lay hands on your wife. Especially because she is carrying your child. Or is there some more delicate—and typically American—way of speaking of her condition?"

"I am carrying his child," said Virginia.

"What do you want of me?" Morris asked.

"Your time," said Pingo-Pongo. "Only a little of it. Your truck. Your gracious help." With his left hand he made delicate stroking motions against both his sallow cheeks, "What would you think that meant?"

"I don't know," Morris said.

"You are not German and stupid. Look at Alfred."

Alfred had a knife in his hand. It had a flat, broadly tapered blade that winked in the light.

"Shaving," said Pingo-Pongo. "Razor. Hence—a knife. It is very simple. It would have to be for a German to understand it. Really, I tell you in confidence, we regret things could not have worked out more—ah—cooperatively. The Japanese are a proud people. It is quite disgusting to be paired, however temporarily, with a race of pigs. But I am sure I'm boring you. You will get dressed and come with me now, Mr. Harley."

"No," said Morris.

Pingo-Pongo smiled. "Are you really so stupid as to think I won't kill you if you don't do exactly what I tell you when L tell you to do it?"

"Morrey," said Virginia. "He means it."

"Honey," said Morris evenly and slowly, "he wants to use me, not you or—or Jasper. If I stepped out of this room—away from you—Alfred would cut your throat. I'm sorry to talk that way, Honey."

"Oh," said Virginia.

"Please don't be sick."

"I won't be. What—what are you going to do?"

"You should ask me," said Pingo-Pongo. "At the moment I have the deciding vote. It is so fortunate that we understand your national psychology. I expected your reaction, and I know exactly the steps to take to meet it."

"What steps?" Morris asked.

"All Americans are cowards," said Pingo-Pongo quite seriously. "They value their lives, the lives of their wives and children and relatives, their security, much more highly than they do their national or personal honor. That is nice. It makes it so easy for me now. Your husband, Mrs. Harley, is terrified for fear something unpleasant might happen to you. For instance, Alfred's knife—So if I explain to Mr. Harley how he can prevent that he will do anything I say. Isn't that true, Mr. Harley?"

"Yes," said Morris.

"Of course," said Pingo-Pongo. "It is so simple when you understand Americans. Now attend me carefully. I wish to retrieve some property of mine which is buried in the cut beyond your Number 3 shovel. I must get it at once, or the shovel will uncover it."

"What is it?" Morris asked,

"Nitroglycerine. You see, I am very frank with you. I wish, also, to use your truck to carry the explosive to a safer place of concealment. I am not ready to use it yet. Are you following me?"

"Yes."

"All right. Now I will explain how you can save your wife's life and your own. I cannot appear openly in this area. It is a combat zone, and no Japanese are allowed in it. For instance, I cannot drive your truck. The first person who noticed me would stop me—or attempt to. So I will ride with you—out of sight on the floor of the truck cab—to the gravel pit, and you will help me load the explosive and then drive me back here again. Then I will wait here with you while Alfred drives the truck to a place we have in mind and unloads the explosive. Then he will drive the truck, back here, and we will leave you both unharmed."

"Why?" said Morris.


PINGO-PONGO smiled at him. "Why not? Your authorities won't be able to find the explosive or Alfred or me, and you will have a great deal of difficulty explaining your part in the affair. In fact, I would advise you not to try. You will be late to work, but you can excuse yourself by saying you were attending your wife. Everything will be so simple that way, and you will also avoid the possibility of me—or someone else—paying your wife a return visit. That is a matter for you to consider most carefully."

Morris looked at Alfred.


PINGO-PONGO said, "Alfred will not touch your wife while we are gone unless we do not return with the explosive within the time limit I have set. Really, neither of you will be harmed if you cooperate."

"When we come back," said Morris, "we'll sit out in front in the truck with the motor running until Virginia comes to the door and I can see she's all right Do you know what I'll do if she isn't?"

Pingo-Pongo chuckled. "I can imagine. You will drive the truck into a lamp-post or a tree."

"The truck," agreed Morris, "and the nitro—and you."

"It will not be necessary," said Pingo-Pongo. "I will do exactly as I promised. I will explain your precaution to Alfred." He spoke in quick, gutturals, and Alfred nodded once.

"Honey?" said Morris inquiringly.

"Yes, Morrey. He went awful fast, but I'm sure he didn't say anything but about the truck and you waiting until you saw me."

Pingo-Pongo stared at her, surprised. "You can speak German?"

"Sure she can," said Morris, getting out of bed and pulling off the top of his pajamas. "Two years in high school and two years in business college."

"Most amazing," said Pingo-Pongo. "I must tell Alfred that." He spoke again, more slowly now, and Alfred nodded stolidly. "You understood what I said, Mrs. Harley?"

"Yes. You told him I spoke German and that he was not to answer me if I tried to talk to him."

"It will be better that way, I think. You wouldn't enjoy talking to him anyway. He is very stupid. Axe you ready now, Mr. Harley? There will be no one at the gravel pit this early, but if you and your truck should be seen it will not excite suspicion. People will merely think yon are working extra hours in your zeal to aid the war effort. Should anyone, for any reason, see me you will explain that I am your new assistant or helper and that I am Chinese."

"All right." said Morris.

"Good-by, Morrey," said Virginia Harley slowly and soberly.

"Keep your chin up, Honey," Morris said. "I'll be back in a flash."

He and Pingo-Pongo went out of the bedroom and across to the kitchen and out on the back porch.

"Wait!" said Pingo-Pongo sharply. "Who is that man digging in the lawn next door?"

"He lives in that new house there," Morris said.

"There was no one living in that house two days ago!"

"He moved in yesterday."

"Is he a friend of yours? Has he visited you?"

"No. He just came over once—to borrow some garden tools, The ones he's using now."

"All right," said Pingo-Pongo. "We understand just how you Americans who live in a small suburb like this talk with your neighbors. You will do and say exactly what I tell you. We will walk on the drive to the garage. You will say, 'Good morning. Looks like a swell day, huh?' He will answer some similar nonsense, and you will say, 'This is my new helper.' I will greet him, and then you will say, 'He's a Chinaman, an' doesn't talk good English.' You will use just the words I have—not any others. Is that clear?"

"Yes," said Morris. "'Good morning. Looks like a swell day, huh? This is my new helper. He's a Chinaman. He doesn't talk good English.'"

"You are a very quick study," said Pingo-Pongo. "That is theater slang for having a good memory. Go ahead now. I will put my gun away and walk close beside you. Your life and your wife's life depends on your absolute obedience."

They went out on the drive. The dawn was a red, fierce glow on the horizon,

The man in the next yard was digging with a gardening fork, and he leaned on it and looked at them. He was a young man with the beginnings of a paunch, and he was bald. He wore a khaki work shirt and khaki pants.

"Good morning," said Morris. "Looks like a swell day, huh?"

"You can have it," said the bald young man.

"This is my new helper."

Pingo-Pongo grinned and giggled and ducked his head. "How-do! How-do, please! Velly fine day!"

"He's a Chinaman," said Morris. "He doesn't talk good English."

"I got ears," said the bald young man.

They had reached the garage, and Morris rolled the patented door up with Pingo-Pongo pretending to help eagerly, and then they were inside and out of sight.

"That was good," said Pingo-Pongo. "He does not suspect anything. He has gone back to his digging. Start the truck, I will sit up on the seat until I am out of sight of your neighbor, and then I will slide down on the floor,"

Morris backed the truck down the drive. The bald young man didn't even look up.

"So nice," said Pingo-Pongo. "Drive very carefully, Mr. Harley. If we have an accident or are stopped by a policeman—"

III

THE gravel pit was a great brown scar against the side of the hill, and Shovel Number 3 looked like a prehistoric monster with a girder neck and a box head. Morris drove the truck around beside it and stopped.

"Is there anyone in sight?" Pingo-Pongo asked.

"No. No one."

"Good. Just as I expected." Pingo-Pongo got out of the truck. "Bring the two shovels and come this way."

Morris got the shovels from the clamps on the side of the truck body and followed Pingo-Pongo up the steep face of the cut. Gravel slid and rolled back under their feet.

"Here," said Pingo-Pongo. "Dig in that direction."

Morris braced himself and began to dig. It was warm, even this early, and sweat stained the back of his shirt.

"Careful, now," Pingo-Pongo warned. "Be very careful—All right. Stand aside!"

He scraped cautiously with his own shovel and finally uncovered a flat gallon tin that was painted dull brown.

"Yes," he said. "There are nineteen more of these buried in two parallel rows. Be very, very careful of them. This is much more sensitive, even, than ordinary nitroglycerine. The slightest jar will set it off. If this much of it should explode it would enlarge this gravel pit about ten times in a split second. I do not have to tell you what would happen to us in that event."

They dug the tins out one after the other.

"Twenty," said Pingo-Pongo. "That is all. Now we will carry them to the truck. Carry one in each hand, and, don't bump them or jiggle them. Walk on your toes."

They made five trips from the cut to the truck:

"Now," said Pingo-Pongo, "throw in a layer of those fine screenings on the bottom of the truck. About a foot deep."


MORRIS shoveled from the pile of screenings, leveling the fine gravel off on the bed of the truck.

"All right," said Pingo-Pongo. "That is very fine." He climbed up into the truck body. "Now hand me the cans one at a time."

Morris handed up the cans, and Pingo-Pongo worked each one carefully into the gravel, packing them about a foot apart. The seventh can Morris handed up slipped in his fingers just as Pingo-Pongo was reaching for it.

Pingo-Pongo raised his voice for the first time. "Look out, you fool! Look—"

Morris staggered hack, juggling the can. He went down on one knee, but he was grasping the tin safely against his chest with both arms.

There was a sheen of sweat on Pingo-Pongo's face. "You clumsy maniac! If that had dropped—Hand it up here!"

Morris gave him the tin and then the others, handling them much more cautiously now.

"That's all," he said. .

Pingo-Pongo jumped down from the truck. "All right. Now we will pile in some of that coarser gravel to hold them and make it look like a regular load and—"

The bald young man slid around the back of the truck. "I wondered how long it was going to be before I could get between you and that nitro." He was holding Morris' new deer rifle, and it was aimed at Pingo-Pongo. "Don't make a move. Don't even bat your eyes."

Pingo-Pongo's voice grated thickly. "You!" he said to Morris. "You signaled him. You disobeyed me."

The morning seemed very misty and dark in front of Morris. "I didn't have to. He's my new helper. He knew that you weren't."

"Luck!" Pingo-Pongo gasped. "Always your American luck. The one chance in a million that he should live next to you!"

"No luck about it," Morris said. "I got him the job. I loaned him and his wife their railroad fare to California. I even loaned them the money to make the down payment on their house."

"Don't forget the five dollars for groceries," said the bald young man sourly.

"He's my brother-in-law," Morris said.

"I ain't boastin' about it, though," said Virginia's brother.


PINGO-PONGO blew out his breath in a long sigh. "So—Mrs. Harley's brother! Then, Mr. Harley, you should tell him about what will happen to his sister. About Alfred and his knife—"

"Is Alfred the bird with the muffin-puss that was in Virginia's bedroom?" Virginia's brother asked. "After you and stupid left, I figure he is acting pretty nutty even for him, so I go around to the back door and knock and holier a little. Then I go in the front door with the key he loaned me to keep track of Virginia with, and I am just in time to see Alfred march Virginia out of the bedroom with a knife against her back, on the way to the back door to see who's there." Virginia's brother nodded at Morris, "it's lucky you are so loopy. You remember them toys you bought? Imagine buyin' baseball stuff for a kid that ain't even born yet! Anyway, the bat was standin' in the hall corner, so I slammed Alfred over the dome with it. I bust it. The bat, I mean. I think maybe I bust Alfred, too."

"Virginia?" Morris asked faintly.

"Say, maybe she's your wife, but I was raised with her. You couldn't hurt her with a hand-axe. When I left she was on the phone hollering for the Army and the Navy and the Air Force and President Roosevelt, And if you think them guys with rifles crawlin' around in the weeds up on the hill there are huntin' ducks, you are crazy. They was afraid to tackle Hiro-Hito for fear he'd drop one of those cans, and they seen I was hidin' behind the truck, so they let me handle it." Virginia's brother raised his voice. "Hey, slew-foots, come on down! The Marines has got the situation, well in hand."

"Marines?" said Pingo-Pongo incredulously.

"One Marine," said Virginia's brother. "Me. Six years before I was invalided out. Hey, lame-brain! What's the matter with you?"

Morris was swaying gently back and forth.

Pingo-Pongo's smile was like a livid mask. "Mr. Harley is relieved that you saved him from betraying his country."

"Why, you bandy-legged little rum-dum," said Virginia's brother. "This guy is my brother-in-law, and he is a dope, but you don't think he was gonna let you get out in the streets with that truck full of nitro, do you? Virginia sure knew that he wouldn't. She was in such a rush for me to get here she wouldn't even let me stop to hit Alfred again. Morrey stalled as long as he could, but he was just about ready to go when I stepped in. You remember that juggling act he put on with the can of nitro? I lost ten years off my life when he was doin' that, and I don't think you liked it so well, either, because you lost track of the number of cans he handed you. He short-changed you. He didn't hand you twenty. He gave you nineteen. There's the other."

With his thumb, without moving the rifle, he pointed under the truck. The flat brown can was under the right rear wheel, tucked in close against the tread of the big tire.

"If you and him had got in the truck," said Virginia's brother, "and dtove it forward a quarter of an inch, there'd have been an awful loud noise around here."

Morris fainted dead away; he came down so hard his head bounced.

"Hell's fire!" said Virginia's brother, really worried now. "I hope he ain't hurt himself. Virginia will tear my ears off if he has."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.