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Emerald Death
 

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Emerald Death


  Emerald Death

  By

  Bill Craig

  Arctic Wolf Publishing

  This is a work of fiction. The events and characters described here are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or living persons. The opinions expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author and do not represent the opinions or thoughts of the publisher. The author represents and warrants that s/he either owns or has the legal right to publish all material in this book. If you believe this to be incorrect, contact the publisher through its website at www.arcticwolfpublishing.com

  Emerald Death

  All Rights Reserved

  Copyright © 2008 Bill Craig

  This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or recording without the express written consent of the publisher.

  Arctic Wolf Publishing

  http://www.arcticwolfpublishing.com

  ISBN -10: 0-9802197-3-6

  ISBN-13: 978-0-9802197-3-9

  Arctic Wolf Publishing and the “AWP” logo are trademarks belonging to Arctic Wolf Publishing

  Printed in the United States of America

  “Fans of pulp adventure stories will find Emerald Death a fun way to spend a weekend or a few late evenings.”--MEGALITH: BOOKS THAT ROCK!

  “Bill Craig is an expert in the action adventure field.”--Jerry Ahern

  Dedication: To the fans of pulp adventure everywhere, and to my Son, William Jacob Craig, the future belongs to you! And Also to my dear friend Amy Bentley, for helping me through rough times.

  Chapter One

  Africa, 1939

  The young man ran his fingers through an unruly mane of light brown hair, brushing it back from his face. From the rail of the tramp steamer he looked out across the waves at the emerald expanse of the African Jungle.

  His name was Mike Hannigan, and it had been about three months since he had set foot on dry land. He had hired on the steamer to work as part of the crew in New York. Only after they had cast off had he found out the ship was going to Africa. The Dark Continent had seemed like a good place to get away to, to lose himself.

  O’Grady had made it pretty clear what would happen if he remained in New York, especially after Morgan had been killed by Spinnelli. Africa seemed like a place he could start over, a place where nobody knew him.

  Just thinking about New York awakened a long dormant vein of paranoia, and the sound of footsteps approaching from behind caused him to spin, his hand dropping to the military flap holster on his belt and the Colt 1911-A1 .45 autoloader that rested there.

  It was only Gregor Shotsky, the Russian first mate. “You seem jumpy today, my friend,” Gregor grinned at him, flashing a mouthful of white teeth.

  “One can’t be too careful. You never know when an enemy might surface.” Hannigan forced himself to relax, but his blue eyes remained wary.

  Gregor leaned over, resting his elbows on the ship's rail. “I know what you are feeling. I left Russia during the revolution. The Romanoff’s were on the run, fleeing before the Bolsheviks. The smart ones… we got out before they took over.”

  “That why you stayed at sea?” Hannigan was surprised by his own interest. He considered Gregor a good friend, yet their acquaintance had never really gotten personal. He knew next to nothing about the wily first mate.

  “Ah, I just wanted to see rest of world. This way, I can. How about you?”

  “Easy, I’m just the son of a son of a sailor. The sea is in my blood. I always have to see just what lies beyond the horizon.”

  “What do you think lies out there?” Gregor waved his arm, indicating the approaching verdant coastline.

  “Adventure,” Hannigan replied, shaking a cigarette from a crumpled pack he kept in the pocket of his shirt. He fished a Zippo lighter from the same pocket and flicked back the cowling, then rubbed his thumb down the striker wheel. He lit the cigarette, and clicked the lighter closed in one fluid motion that ended with the Zippo disappearing back into his pocket.

  “You have heard about what is happening in Europe?” Gregor asked, narrowing his eyes.

  “You mean Hitler and his Nazi Party? Yeah, I don’t think he’ll last.” Hannigan blew out a cloud of blue smoke. The green coastline was drawing closer and despite his earlier claim of salt water in his veins, he suddenly felt himself yearning for the feel of solid ground beneath his feet.

  “That’s not what I hear. I hear he is a monster; that his secret police are taking prisoners, doing things to them. He is expanding, trying to make Germany stronger. I fear they might become too strong, my friend,” Gregor sighed, shaking his head.

  “What happens if they do, Gregor?” Hannigan took another puff on his cigarette.

  “The world will be in a lot of trouble I think,” Gregor’s face was serious as a nun in church.

  “Then I guess we’ll have to fight him,” Hannigan shrugged.

  “Just like that?” Gregor looked amused.

  “Just like that. You, me a couple of other guys, we’ll just head to Germany and kick his Nazi ass all the way back to Berlin. It will be a piece of cake.” Hannigan grinned, flipping the remains of his cigarette out into the ocean, watching the red meteor vanish as it touched the waves below.

  “Americans. You are certainly full of yourselves,” Gregor laughed.

  “Maybe, but we’ve never been whipped yet,” Hannigan grinned. It made him look even younger than his eighteen years, more like a little kid despite the week’s worth of reddish brown stubble on his chin and cheeks.

  “You might want to shave,” Gregor nodded at him. “It’s very hot in Africa.”

  “Exactly where are we landing at, Gregor?” Hannigan pulled another Lucky Strike from his crumpled pack of cigarettes. His throat was raw from too much smoking, but something about landfall had triggered a bout of anxiety for which nicotine was the only remedy available.

  “Share one of those and I’ll tell you,” Gregor said, smiling his pearly white grin. Hannigan reached forward, offering him the butt extending from the top of the pack. Gregor took it and sniffed the cigarette as Hannigan slipped the pack back into his shirt pocket. He drew his lighter and fired them both up.

  “So tell,” as he flicked the cowling closed on his lighter and dropped it into his pocket.

  “The Congo. A little town at the mouth of the Congo River. A piece of advice though, my young friend; never light more than one cigarette at a time. You never know when someone might shoot at the flame.” Gregor blew out a cloud of smoke.

  “Reasonable advice.”

  “Mike, do you have any real plan as to what you are going to do once you go ashore?”

  “Not really, no. I figured something would turn up though.”

  Gregor tapped the ashes off the end of his cigarette. “I have a friend. I’ll introduce you to him. He might have some sort of work for you.”

  “What kind of work?” Hannigan asked, warming to the idea.

  “Adventurous work. The kind you came all the way to the Dark Continent to find,” Gregor replied.

  “Ah,” Hannigan blew out a cloud of smoke. It would probably involve running guns or something. That wouldn’t be too bad, as long as it wasn’t killing or running slaves. Even he had a place where he drew the line, though the boys back in New York might not believe it.

  It had felt good being at sea, feeling the waves rocking the boat beneath his feet, the smell of the salt air filling his nostrils and lungs. A big change from the city, even though in some ways being on the steamer and part of its crew was a lot like life in the big city, and not always in a good way.

  Gregor had been the first of the crewmembers to befriend him, and his staunchest
ally when a few had tried to rough him up. The big Russian had taught him even more about fighting dirty than he had already learned on the streets of New York City.

  “You seem troubled, Michael.” Gregor flicked his cigarette over the side, watching the fiery comet trail it left until it hit the water and vanished in the blink of an eye.

  “A little, Gregor.” Hannigan flicked away the remainder of his own cigarette. “Sometimes I wonder if I’ve chosen the right course for my life,”

  “Only time will answer that question, my friend.” Gregor flashed his spectacular grin one last time, and then turned and headed below decks. The Russian was probably turning in early in anticipation of a busy day offloading cargo. Hannigan knew that even if he went to his berth, he wouldn’t be able to sleep. The excitement of their impending arrival in Africa would keep him awake.

  It was amazing really, how much the world had changed in just the past few years; how much his world had changed, since leaving the farm in Indiana, and journeying to the big city. Everything he had experienced had made him a new person, refined him, and forged him into a man. The boy that had run away from the farm south of Greensboro just a few years before was gone. In his place was a young man, one who had tested his wits and his brawn against the gangs of Gotham. Not everyone lived through that trial by fire - Hannigan had laid a few friends in the ground - but he had survived the ordeal that forced him to flee the city, and now here he was, about to step forth on a new land, one he had never dreamed he would see.

  It really was a whole new world, and one he was very eager to explore. Sighing, Hannigan turned from the railing and started for the hatch that would take him below decks, when something cut in front of the moon, eclipsing its light. His breath caught in his throat as he watched the shape glide through the night sky: silhouetted by the moonlight was an enormous silvery dirigible. He couldn’t see any markings, but the giant airship fired his imagination. …What did lie before him?

  Only tomorrow would tell….

  The airship passed out of sight and he headed for his bunk, ready to see what tomorrow would bring.

  Chapter Two

  Hannigan stood on the dock, his duffle slung over his shoulder, waiting for Gregor. The sun was already hot in the morning sky, the air thick with humidity. Sweat was pouring down from his head; soaking the dark blue bandanna he had tied around his forehead to absorb it. There was no sign of the Russian. Hannigan had been waiting for more than an hour for his friend, and he could wait no longer.

  The docks were alive with activity. Mixtures of all types of people were busily unloading cargo from the docked freighters, but Hannigan ignored them as he carried his duffle towards the main dock.

  Gregor had given him a name the night before: Degiorno. Francisco Degiorno. He was supposed to frequent the bar called The Broken Tusk.

  Hannigan sighed. He had hoped that Gregor had been serious; that he would truly help him find employment on landing in Africa. Now, it looked like that wasn’t going to happen.

  As he approached the end of the dock he could see a small mob of children, most of them thin and half-naked. Beggars, the thought jumped to his mind. Families sent their children because they knew that most sailors would take pity on the kids and give them money.

  He almost reached into his pocket for some spare change, and then caught himself. That would only encourage them to follow and harass him. If he wanted work from Degiorno, he needed to arrive at The Broken Tusk without a lot of fanfare, especially without his arrival being heralded by an army of children.

  The Broken Tusk took its name from the ivory trade and the hunters who had earned a fortune for distant European monarchs by shooting elephants and then sawing off the tusks. Without the ivory trade, the Congo would have remained a dark, unknown place. But stalking the largest animal on four legs was no easy feat. Only hard men survived the danger and diseases unique to the jungle… soldiers of fortune they called them. …These were the kind of men who gathered at a place like The Broken Tusk.

  There were places like that in New York - in every city, he imagined - and he knew how the game was played. Men who needed work done - dangerous work - lurked in such places, waiting for other men who were brave, reckless, or simply desperate enough to take the job, no questions asked. With or without Gregor, he knew work could be found there. Nevertheless, as he took his first steps into a strange land, Hannigan was comforted by the weight of the Colt 1911-A1 stuffed into his waistband underneath the khaki vest he wore.

  Despite his excitement over the beginning of a new adventure, Hannigan affected a sour expression. When the first young beggar approached him, Hannigan drew back his fist and made a threatening gesture. The other children shied away and he was able to leave the docks unmolested.

  He felt badly for the children. Sure, they were professional beggars, but it bothered him that he had threatened them in order to get them to leave him alone. He would have to do something about that later, after he had secured some sort of employment.

  The roar of an engine behind him cut through the usual dockside din and Hannigan spun around to see a Citroen P-45 truck flying towards him. He stared in disbelief for just a moment, and then dived out of the way as the truck shot by. The Citroen skidded to a halt in the dusty street as Hannigan rolled to his feet, his hand slipping under his vest and wrapping around the butt of his Colt. Three men climbed out of the truck - three tough looking men.

  “Damn,” he whispered. Had Spinnelli tracked him here already? He drew the pistol and leveled it in the direction of the men and they stopped in their tracks.

  “Can I help you fellas?”

  “You Mike Hannigan?” The leader of the three asked. The man was tall and thin, yet his frame appeared to be muscular despite his thinness. Hannigan mentally assigned him the name Thin Man. The other two were black-skinned Africans. One was heavy set, with an enormous gut—Hannigan tagged him with “Jelly Belly”—and the other man he called “Shadow” not because of his dark complexion, but because the man was small enough to vanish in Jelly Belly’s shadow.

  He kept the muzzle of the .45 steady. “Maybe. Depends on who’s asking and why.”

  “Does the name Francisco Degiorno mean anything to you?”

  “Maybe, maybe not.” Hannigan shrugged his shoulders but the unblinking eye of the .45’s muzzle remained motionless. “Anybody can drop a name.”

  Thin Man wiped the sweat from his brow. “Gregor called him; told us to pick you up. You were gone from the boat by the time we got there.”

  Hannigan considered this. Spinnelli’s goons might have guessed he’d seek out Degiorno, but they couldn’t have known about Gregor, could they? He thought about his friend’s absence early on, wondering if perhaps this unsavory trio had beat the information out of the Russian, and then chased him here. Their version seemed a little more plausible, but he remained wary.

  “You better be telling the truth.” He kept the pistol in hand as he followed the men back to the Citroen.

  The roof had been cut away, leaving the cab open to the jungle air. Hannigan climbed into the back where he could keep them covered with the Colt. His palms were sweating on the knurled grips of the Colt as Thin Man put the Citroen in gear and it started rolling down the street. Hannigan didn’t trust any of the three men, but he trusted Gregor, and if the Russian had arranged this, then they were probably square.

  *****

  Gregor Shotsky made his way to the dock. His duties as first mate had kept him aboard The African Queen long after he had thought to leave the ship. The Captain had not been aware that he planned to depart his service on the boat upon reaching the Dark Continent, and announcing his resignation had further delayed him. He had hoped that Mike Hannigan would be still waiting for him, but he didn’t see the American anywhere.

  His decision to leave the maritime trade and seek his fortunes on terra firma had been a long time coming. Not long after they left New York City, he had begun planning for the future, making contacts o
n the ship’s short-wave radio. He had eventually reached Francisco Degiorno, a fat Italian crook he had met years before, who had not only promised him work but also asked him to recruit others—sturdy men who wouldn’t be afraid to go on a grand adventure. Mike Hannigan had been the only man on the ship that had fit the bill. Gregor could tell that Hannigan wanted to experience life… experience adventure.

  Hannigan had a lot of potential. Gregor knew that the American could someday be great in the fullest sense of the word. Patience was his biggest problem; it was something that Mike Hannigan had very little of. He was always ready to move, to see what was over that next horizon. Hannigan had adventure in his blood.

  Gregor didn’t know exactly what Degiorno wanted men for, but he knew there would be a big payoff involved. He envisioned a search for some legendary treasure deep in the heart of darkest Africa… the thought always brought a chuckle.

  He scanned the dock again. Where was Mike Hannigan? Had he already started for The Broken Tusk? Or had something happened to the young American?

  *****

  Mike Hannigan followed the route they were taking, comparing it to the directions that Gregor had given him the night before. Thin Man turned a corner and Hannigan knew that they were not heading for The Broken Tusk.

  “Wrong turn, mate.” Hannigan jammed the muzzle into the base of Thin Man’s skull.

  “No it isn’t, this is the right way,” Thin Man’s voice held a quiver as he spoke.

  “The Hell you say.” Hannigan snapped. “I know where The Broken Tusk is. You have ten seconds to get us back on the right path before my finger pulls this trigger,”

 
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