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Wind Raker -- July 4th

In keeping with posting holidays from the Order of the Air books on the actual holiday, I thought I'd share a piece from the next book, Wind Raker. This is Jerry's July 4th in Hawaii, only his new lover comes with complications!

I'd love to hear what you think!

There were two bars by the waterfront that allowed a gay crowd to gather in peace, both at the Chinese end of the street. Of the two, Johnny Chen’s was less rowdy, and it had become Jerry’s preferred stop. It was also somewhat more likely to be raided, Willi had pointed out with a wry smile, and Jerry couldn’t disagree. Whoever the owner was, he clearly wasn’t paying off as many people as the Wong Note down the street, but the risk seemed a fair trade for a certain measure of privacy. More of Chen’s customers were actually homosexual, as opposed to the bigger bar’s, and that made a difference. The drinks were expensive, but not watered; the band was passable and the cover charge outrageous, and for the most part it was safe to let their hair down. And if there was trouble, Honolulu was a long way from either New York or Berlin.

It was unusually crowded for a Thursday night, plenty of people off for the holiday, but they managed to find a table to one side, far enough from the band that they could carry on a conversation. A strong smell of reefer drifted from the darkest corner, but it was a small price to pay.

The first explosion caught him completely off guard, rattling the shuttered windows and making the floor tremble underfoot. He froze, automatically calculating the fall of the shell, before he remembered when and where they were, and how close to the waterfront they actually were.

“Fireworks,” Willi said, and anything else he might have said was swallowed in the next explosion.

Jerry took a deep breath. He knew what this was, knew it was harmless despite the smell of cordite that drifted in through the open door. He made himself take a swallow of his drink, barely tasting the rum, and Willi put a cautious arm around his shoulder. Jerry winced, not sure if he wanted to know that Willi felt it each time he flinched, but Willi made no comment. There was just the steady, undemanding weight of his arm across Jerry’s back and abruptly Jerry let himself relax into that comfort.

The barrage seemed to go on forever. He knew it wasn’t his guns, could recognize the different rhythm, sharp and stuttering where his battery had been proud of steady fire, but he couldn’t seem to get the taste of powder out of his mouth and mind. Willi spoke into a pause in the roar.

“Would it be better if you could see it?”

Jerry considered. It might be, but he wasn’t sure how easily he could move, or that he wanted to give up Willi’s embrace. He shook his head, gulping more of his drink, and a little later another appeared on the table. And than, at last, the bombardment ended, to the cheers of the crowd at the main viewing area and louder shouts and whistles from the street outside. Willi settled back in his own chair, and ordered another round. After a moment, Jerry managed a crooked smile.


“Not to worry.”

The club was filling up again, men and the occasional woman moving on from the display, and the bandleader signaled his boys to start another tune.

“Would you rather go?” Willi asked, leaning close, and Jerry shook his head.

“Let’s finish this round, and then we’ll see.”

By the time their glasses were empty, it was crowded enough that a good number of the patrons probably weren’t queers, and that was usually a good time to leave. Jerry pushed himself to his feet with the help of his cane, and was relieved to discover he felt steady enough to make his way back to their car.

It was considerably cooler outside, and the smell of gunpowder had faded, to be replaced by the perfume of flowers Jerry didn’t recognize. The street was bright with neon and still busy, girls in bright dresses and brighter makeup clinging with determination to the arms of young men — some of them very young and uniformed, Jerry saw with amusement. Apparently both the Emden’s crew and the boys from the Army base were making the most of the holiday. He shook his head at a girl who asked for a light, and took a more secure grip on his cane as he made his way along the cracked sidewalk. Off in the shadows between two bars, a boy in sailor’s whites was being comprehensively sick, too bent over for Jerry to tell whether the uniform was American or German. A tall girl in wedge heels was walking quickly away, and Willi swore.

“She’ll have his wallet.”

Probably. Jerry put a hand on his arm. “There’s nothing we can do. And we don’t know.”

“No.” Willi glared after her a moment longer, then sighed. “And he’d have lost more in Berlin, I know.”

“In New York, she’d have gotten his buttons, too,” Jerry said, and as he’d hoped, Willi laughed.

“Well, it’s harder for him to chase her if his trousers are falling down.”

“New York girls aren’t dumb,” Jerry began, and a voice spoke behind them.

“Herr Professor?”

He and Willi turned together, to see a lanky fair-haired boy in rumpled cadet whites. Jerry looked at Willi, his eyebrows rising, and Willi sighed.

“Midshipman Lorenz was a student of mine at the Realgymnasium in Bremen. Lorenz, this is my colleague, Dr. Ballard.”

“Delighted,” Jerry said, though he wasn’t really feeling it. What he wanted was to get home and into bed — His attention sharpened abruptly. No, Lorenz wasn’t drunk, and his expression hinted at something gone wrong.

“Please, Herr Professor,” Lorenz began, and stopped, words failing him.

“Are you in trouble?” Willi’s voice was calm, as though this sort of thing happened to him every day, and Lorenz’s tight stance relaxed just a little.

“Not me — it’s my friend, my messmate Sommer, the one you met the other night, Herr Professor.”

Willi nodded. “Will you tell me? We may be able to help.”

“Sommer, he —“ Lorenz grimaced, tried again. “We had leave tonight, until two this morning, but there was a fight, some of our sailors got into it with some Americans, and Captain Dönitz has cancelled all our leaves.” His voice trailed off, and Jerry gave an encouraging nod.

Willi said, “And you’ve lost Sommer?”

Lorenz nodded. “The Shore Patrol will sweep the bars, and — he — I’m worried he might get into real trouble if I don’t find him first.”

Jerry frowned, and Willi laid a hand on his arm. “Let me understand you. You’re worried that Midshipman Sommer has gone off on an adventure that might be a bit — hotter — than was wise.”

Lorenz nodded gratefully. “Just so, Herr Professor.”

Jerry blinked, then remembered Berlin slang. “Hotties” were homosexuals, sharp young men in sharper suits and too-long hair, the “hot brothers” who dominated certain popular clubs. If this other midshipman was a homosexual, and was looking for adventure — He met Willi’s eye, and Will nodded briskly.

“I would look,” Lorenz said unhappily, “but I don’t know where to start, and if I found him, then if I was asked —“

He would have to lie under oath, Jerry thought, or betray a friend. No wonder he was upset.

“What if we also look for your friend?” Willi asked. “You check the bars at that end of the street —“ He waved toward the brighter neon of the American end. “And we’ll look here. I’m sure we’ll find him that way.”

“Yes. Thank you, Herr Professor. Just tell him that leave is cancelled —“ Lorenz turned away without waiting for an answer.

Willi looked sideways. “Well, what else could I do?”

“The kid’s one of us?” Jerry asked, though he thought he already knew the answer.

“Lorenz thinks so,” Willi answered. “And he was always notably observant.”

“Which is how he knows about you?” Jerry asked.

“I had a steady friend when I was teaching there,” Willi said. “Though it didn’t work out. And that is hardly relevant now.”

Jerry nodded. If I were a young sailor looking for trouble — “The Wong Note,” he said aloud, and Willi nodded.

The Wong Note lay just on the Chinese side of the strip, with pink stucco walls and a neon pagoda for its sign. A pair of cartoon Chinamen were painted on either side of the door, one with a clarinet, the other with a trumpet, while a cartoon Dragon Lady winked from the shutters. Inside, the noise was like a body blow, at least a hundred people shouting to be heard over the efforts of a bad Hawaiian band massacring a dance tune. The room was dimly lit, with blocks of small tables around the central dance floor, and a long bar at the back where waitresses in shortened cheongsams were collecting trays of glasses. There was a revue later, Jerry knew, with a chorus in drag as well as regular girls, and the crowd was a mix of homosexuals, Hawaiians, Filipinos, Chinese and even a few Negroes as well as white couples looking for a bit of extra spice or the cocaine and heroin that were dealt at the back tables. That was part of the price of admission, being part of the decor, and one of the reasons Jerry preferred Chen’s. He leaned close to Willi’s ear.

“Let’s have a word with the bartender.”

Willi nodded. “I don’t see the boy.”

“No.” Jerry looked around again as his eyes adjusted to the light. The white tropical uniforms should stand out like a beacon — and, yes, there were a couple of American sailors vying to put the moves on a tall girl that Jerry hoped was actually a woman — but there was no sign of Sommer.

Jerry fetched up at the right-hand end of the bar where an older man with slicked-back hair was drying a rack of more-or-less washed glasses. He was the senior man and queer himself, and Jerry leaned comfortably on the bar until he caught the man’s eye.

“Drink, mister?”

“Two bourbons, thanks.” Jerry waited while they were poured, then put his hand over the money before the bartender could take it. “A word to the wise. The German cruiser cancelled leave and is sending its shore patrol to round up its boys.”

“That right?” The bartender’s voice was carefully incurious, but his eyes were alert and wary.

“Heard it from one of the midshipmen,” Jerry said. “You may have a deal with the Navy…”

“But not them guys,” the bartender said. He pushed the money back. “Thanks, mister. On the house.”

Jerry didn’t take it. “You wouldn’t know anything about one of those midshipmen? Might have gone off with someone he oughtn’t?”

The bartender grinned. “Yeah, that’s one way of putting it.” He jerked his head toward the door to the right of the bar, almost invisible in the shadows. “He was out there. Left maybe ten minutes ago.”

“Thank you,” Jerry said, and left the money on the bar. He caught Willi’s arm. “Come on.”

They slipped through the door into an alley that smelled of piss and semen, and Willi swore unhappily. Jerry’s breath caught. A little further in the shadows, a boy in white was on his knees, another boy in a band member’s embroidered jacket braced against the wall in front of him, head back and eyes closed in the aftermath of climax. Sommer’s hand was busy between his thighs, and as Jerry watched, he came, sharp and hot and astonishingly beautiful. Willi swore again, more loudly, and both boys turned, startled and then afraid.

“Emden’s leave has been cancelled,” Willi said, in German. “You had better get back. Now.”

Sommer shook himself, all trace of pleasure vanishing, and pushed himself awkwardly to his feet, buttoning his fly. There wasn’t much he could do about the dirt on his knees, but that need not be too betraying. The musician looked warily from him to Willi and back again, and Jerry said, “Shore patrol’s coming.”

The musician swore, fastening his own pants. Sommer looked at him, gave a sudden grin and a shrug that made the musician smile back, and then he pushed past them, losing himself in the crowd on the street outside. The musician sighed.

“Back to work,” he said, and pulled open the door that led back into the Wong Note. Jerry caught it before it closed, and after a moment Willi shrugged and followed the boy.

Their drinks were still waiting, and Jerry leaned hard against the bar, willing his own erection to subside. From the look on his face, Willi had the same problem, and Jerry lifted his drink in ironic salute. Willi gave a rueful smile, and touched glasses.

“There won’t always be someone to rescue him.”

Jerry nodded. The trick was always not to get caught, and it was something you could only learn by doing, by taking the risk and winning. Maybe they hadn’t done him a favor, but — “He’ll know better next time,” he said, and took another sip of his drink.



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 5th, 2014 06:01 am (UTC)
Intriguing excerpt. Lucky Sommer, to have Lorenz, Willi and Jerry look out for him. I think Willi comes across well here, and look forward to finding out more about him and Jerry.
Jul. 5th, 2014 12:04 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you find it intriguing! Sommer is lucky -- Max Sommer will be a returning character, and Lorenz will be back in one more book. I'm glad Willi comes across well. He's a very good professor -- a better teacher than archaeologist, though Jerry would never say that. He's younger than Jerry, born in 1901 rather than 1887, so he was never at the front in the Great War.

This is Melissa's scene, and I am utterly in awe of the depth of research she's packed into it!
Jul. 8th, 2014 04:24 am (UTC)
Wowee, place and time set so well!
Jul. 8th, 2014 01:17 pm (UTC)
This is Melissa's exquisite world building. She's so good, whether it's a historical place and time or one of her invention.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )