ICARUS PLOT

By T. C. Isbell



I hope you enjoy reading this excerpt from Icarus Plot.


INTRODUCTION


The 1939 Havana Incident on the SS Southern Cross leads MI6 agent Clive Smith to suspect the Germans and Japanese are working together in Central and South America. However, the FBI classifies the Havana Incident top secret and closes the case. Smith disagrees. The case is far from over; it's just beginning.



PROLOGUE



March 21, 1940

Colón, Republic of Panama



Perspiration dripped from Yashiro Tanaka's forehead as he slammed his fist against the table in frustration. The members of the Japanese Black Dragon Society sat, rigidly looking straight ahead, hoping to avoid Yashiro's wrath. The only sounds in the cramped room came from the traffic on Balboa Avenue and the boisterous crowd in the Lotus Bar, one floor below. Yashiro's face reddened and his speech became deliberate as he leaned to within inches of Toshi Soto.

"Stop this petty complaining and focus."

Yashiro pulled back and took a deep breath. Regaining his composure, he forced his extended finger tips against the tabletop and shifted forward as he glowered at the agents. "Am I making myself clear?"

After a long silence, Toshi cleared his throat and began to speak, slowly at first. "But how long must we take these insults? Army guards detained me this morning at the main gate of Fort Davis. I have visited the administration building numerous times to repair typewriters, but this time a soldier, I have known for years, called me 'Jap' and made me wait for over an hour before allowing me to enter the base."

Yashiro glared at Toshi. Kono yarou!

"Toshi-san, you will smile and endure these insignificant insults. We are all suffering. Our mission is too critical for personal feelings. Keep in mind why we are here."

Their eyes remained locked in silent combat as a blanket of charged emotion smothered the room. No one dared speak, or even breathe. Neither Toshi nor Yashiro looked away, until the shrill siren from a passing police car blasted across the balcony and through the second story window.

Toshi drew a hesitant breath and lowered his head. "Yes . . . I understand, Yashiro-sama."

Yashiro turned to Makoto Nakamura. "Did the shipment arive last night?"

In all, six cases of dynamite are in my storeroom, but we should move them to a safer location."

Yashiro placed his gold rimmed glasses on top of a map showing Panama Canal's defenses and swept his hand across his close cut, salt-and-pepper hair.

"Gentlemen, yesterday was a day of great importance. I secured the allegiance of someone with access to all of the American facilities. The last step needed for Icarus is now in place."

The agents glanced at each other and silently nodded their heads in approval.

Yashiro turned to the dark elm liquor cabinet behind him and removed six small, white Kutani porcelain cups and a narrow necked flask containing Takara sake. He arranged them symmetrically on an antique, black and gold lacquer tray and filled five of the cups.

Toshi stood, filled the sixth cup, and bowed as he handed it to Yashiro.

When everyone held a cup, Yashiro offered a traditional toast.

"May the Emperor live for ten-thousand years."

"And may our enemies soon feel the sharpness of our swords," Toshi added.

Standing, the agents faced a picture of Emperor Hirohito and raised their cups three times in unison.

"Banzai, Banzai, Banzai!"

Yashiro looked at the others and smiled as the dryness and burn of the rice wine flashed down his throat. A sense of victory filled his mind.

Now we wait for the rains to come.



Chapter One



April 6, 1940



Colón lay outside United States jurisdiction. It was Mick Jenkins' type of town, wide open with gambling, bars that never closed, and women . . . lots of exotic women. Mick and the Bonner brothers, Alec and Jacob, were MI6 agents who arrived from Morocco by freighter yesterday and were exploring the local culture.

"God, I love this place," Mick said as he lit a cigarette and exhaled a billowing cloud of smoke. "Can't you feel the energy?"

"You'd like anywhere with this many bars," Jacob said as they exited the Atlantic Nite Club. Jacob and his half brother Alec grew up near Whitecastle in the east end of London and spoke with Cockney accents.

Mick's eyes lit up when he noticed a captivating figure wearing a bright red dress with a sparkling floral pattern headed toward them.

"We've gotta learn the lay of the land and here comes one now."

He removed his white Panama hat, revealing jet black hair, and broadcast his best Cheshire Cat smile at the sultry brunette as she approached the Atlantic. The alluring scent of her gardenia perfume filled Mick's thoughts with anticipation when she swayed up to the enterance and reached for the door.

Mick jumped back and pushed the door open.

"Allow me. I'm Mick, and you're . . .?"

The brunette brushed past him and entered the Atlantic without saying a word. She obviously wasn't the least bit impressed by Mick's grade B mobster appearance, his gold tooth, or his irritatingly smug chivalry.

Alec adjusted his horn-rimmed glasses as he walked away. "You don't have time. His train arrives in five minutes."

"I know, but . . ."

"But nothing. Remember where he sent us after we lost that German spy in Manhattan?"

"Yeah, we were lucky to get out of that equatorial pest hole without head lice. I wouldn't give you a bob for the whole poxy place. I still have nightmares about green snakes with ruby-red eyes."

"Equatorial?"

Hey, I'm trying to improve my vocabulary. Someday, I just might write a book and become famous like that fellow, Hemingway."

The shrill whistle from an approaching train sounded repeatedly over the din on the street. They quickened their pace and rounded the corner onto Front Street, moving as if they were Saturday-night cowboys late for a public hanging. Dodging around the shoppers on the sidewalk, they rushed past the open door of a cafe where the cook was preparing chicken and plantains. The rich aroma of Caribbean spices and thick smoke from cooking oil spilled through the doorway and drifted down the street.

"Look there's some empty tables," Alec said.

"We don't have time, . . . remember?" Mick said as they hurried past a line of customers and crossed the street toward the throng forming at the station.

The onlookers, mostly blacks from the West Indies, enveloped the platform on three sides with a carnival atmosphere. Despite the heat some men wore neckties and long-sleeve shirts and, as was the custom, almost everyone wore a hat to escape the relentless sun. Men sported brown fedoras or white panamas and women wore wide-brimmed, light-colored hats with colorful bands. Street vendors did a brisk business selling flavored shaved ice from brightly painted, two-wheel carts.

"Not a cloud in sight." Alec shielded his eyes from the sun and searched the dark blue sky over Limon Bay. "I wish it would rain."

"No you don't," Mick said. "It would only get more humid and when it starts, it won't stop until Christmas."

The train's brakes squealed with a high pitched grinding noise until the cars clanked to an abrupt stop. A loud rush of air escaped when the brakes released.

Alec surveyed the passengers as they pushed into the crowd and began weaving their way toward the street. He glanced around the platform and pulled a large white handkerchief from his back pocket. Mopping his brow, he looked toward Mick and shook his head.

"Where the hell is he?"

"Maybe he missed the train in Panama City." Jacob said as the last few stragglers gathered their belongings and left the platform.

Alec used his handkechief again, but it was of little use. Stinging perspiration was soon running into his eyes and dripping from the tip of his nose.

"Cor blimey, now what?"

After three deafening whistles, the locomotive started to move, blanketing the bystanders in a cloud of pungent diesel fumes. The corragated metal roof above the waiting platform rumbled with the pulsations from the powerful twelve cylinder engine as it strained to leave the station.

Mick lit a cigarette and watched the train round the bend and pull up the hill toward Mount Hope. How could we have missed him?

The whistle sounded one last time as the train disappeared in the distance.

Jacob reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out an empty cigarette pack. He crumpled it into a tight ball and dropped it to the ground."

"Can I bum one of your fags?"

As Mick handed Alec the cigarettes, he noticed a nun and priest standing in the shadows behind a wooden pillar at the far end of the platform. The priest picked two well-traveled suitcases and, scowling at Mick, started to walk away.

Mick's eyes followed the priest.

Strike a light, it's Clive. What's he made up for?

Clive Smith was perfectly suited for a job as an MI6 agent. Fifteen minutes after you met him you wouldn't remember his name.

Clive bent down and whispered something to the nun. When she turned toward Mick, a ray of sunlight highlighted her thin, upturned nose and delicate features.

Mick didn't expect to see Gwen Wells in Panama and was disappointed that the veil and tunic of the traditional habit hid all but her face from view. Normally her figure wouldn't go unnoticed, even in a crowd.

"What are you doing here?" Clive demanded, glaring at Mick.

"We came to meet your train."

"That's obvious. Why?" Clive shook his head. "Never mind. Let's get out of here."

Alec and Jacob took the bags from Clive as Mick waved for a cab. A cream colored, 1936 DeSoto DeLux taxi pulled to the curb.

"Where to?" the cabby said as he finished loading the bags and slammed the trunk lid.

"Hotel Washington,per favor, Mick said as he leaned toward Gwen and winked. "It's not far, but in this humidity with your luggage, it's best to take a cab. We wouldn't want you to get all sweaty, now would we, sister?"

As usual, Gwen ignored Mick's innuendos. Her eyes momentarily met Clive's and rolled upward as she pulled the jump-seat down. Mick slid into the front, next to the driver, and turned toward Clive.

How was the trip from Panama City?"

"Scenic, but tiring," Gwen said.

Clive remained silent and stared out the window as the cab pulled into traffic.

After a short ride, the cab drove down the palm lined driveway leading to the hotel's entrance. The lush green foliage and bright flowers in the expansive garden stood out against the stark white walls of the sprawling three story Spanish Mission style building. Lavender bougainvillea vines hung from the arches of the portico and hibiscus bushes in full bloom with giant red, orange, and yellow flowers dotted the walkways. A mild breeze from Manzanillo Bay carried the rich, sweet scent of white gardenias through the cab's open windows.

"Crappers, what's this? Looks like the bloody Taj Mahal." Clive inspected the high arches and impressive double doorway leading to the main lobby.

"This is our hotel . . ." Mick's voice trailed off as Clive bounded from the cab, followed closely by Gwen.

"Leave the bags and follow me," Clive said, without waiting. He marched past a grouping of over-stuffed chairs and and a large Red Fronted Macaw perched in a polished brass cage near the doorway to the main lobby. Gwen gazed up at a gleaming crystal chandler centered in a soaring, domed skylight as they bypassed the startled clerk at the front desk.

"May I help you?"

"No," Clive said sharply as he continued toward the back of the lobby and through the open French doors leading to the courtyard. He stopped when they reached the seawall adjoining Manzanillo Bay and glanced around; the courtyard was empty. Clive spun on his heals and glaring at Mick, poked his finger against Mick's chest.

"Why did you book us at this damned mansion?"

"Pretty ritzy, huh?" Mick;s chest puffed up as he brushed his pencil thin mustache with his index finger.

I knew he'd like it.

"Roosevelt and Taft stayed here . . ."

"Bloody hell, I don't care if Tutankhamen is buried where we're standing, we're not staying. Do you think we're on holiday?"

"Well . . ." Mick nervously pulled at his mustache as he remembered the snakes.

"We're trying to conduct a clandestine operation and you set us up to stand out like chorus girls with pasties in a Saturday night burlesque show. I want you three to split up and find rooms in separate, cheap hotels, somewhere in the main part of town. Meet me tomorrow morning at eight outside the Atlantic Terminal Office in Cristóbal. Don't be late and, for Christ sake, stop strutting around town like horny sailors on boot liberty."

Clive and Gwen crossed back to the lobby, grabbed their bags, and headed down the driveway toward the center of town.

Alec pulled off his glasses and wiped the lenses with his handkerchief. His eyes narrowed as he focused on Mick. "Guess he hasn't forgotten about New York."

"Kinda looks that way to me too," Jacob said with a grin.

Mick took a deep drag and flipped his cigarette over the seawall.

"Bugger off."

COMMENTS?

Please feel free to use the link below to contact me with your comments and questions. I'd love to hear from you. If you would like to know when my books become available, I'll place you on my personal mailing list. Rest assured I will NOT sell or give your information to anyone, ever. I hate SPAM as much as you do. Thanks for stopping by and thanks to those who have already contacted me, T. C.

tom@MysteryAlley.com

Last year I wrote a short story called Mattie's Shoes. It placed in the 79th Annual Writer's Diget Writing Competition in the category of Literary Short Story. It's not a mystery, but you might enjoy reading about Mattie Johnson. She, like many of us, ignores some of life's more painful issues until they no longer remain hidden and she is forced to confront them. Click on the link below to read an excerpt from Mattie's Shoes.

Link to Mattie's Shoes

ADDITIONAL READING

The paperback and eBook editions of Southern Cross are available in many countries including US, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Japan, Spain and Italy through Amazon. Google Play lists an ePub edition of Southern Cross that is compatible with many eReaders, such as Sony and Kobo. There may be some limitations on availability due to country. Barnes & Noble can supply either the paperback or eBook editions. In addition, any independent bookstore can order Southern Cross for you.

If you would like to purchase Southern Cross please use the links below or contact your local independent bookstore.

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