The story: 0
“Where to?” was the first thing I said to the guy. It’s my first question to anyone that gets in my cab.
“11766 Wilshire,” came the winded response.
The hot day had turned into a warm night. Street lights cast shadows across the backseat, so I couldn’t see his face. A polish on some of his vowels made me think Brit, but I wasn’t sure. I flipped the lever on the meter and pulled away from the curb. Traffic thinned since the dinner hour. I was glad to pick up a fare so soon before the bars closed.
Five minutes into the ride and the guy was still panting. I kept glancing in the mirror to see what’s up with this guy. After another minute he twists around to look out of the back window.
“Hey Mack, ugh are you okay?” I asked.
“That car… behind us … How long has it been there?”
“For a mile or so,” I said. He was definitely a Brit. The night felt like it was heating up.
A passing street lamp showed a very pale man with a pencil thin mustache looking at me. His eye arched and gaze narrowed the then shot a glance at my license. “Mr. Rogers,… you’d be doing a service to your country …and mine if you could lose that car …and get me to the consulate post haste.”
Another street lamp and I noticed red stain spreading on his shirt from just above his cummerbund. “It might not serve our countries, but getting you to a hospital could do you a world of good.”
“No… hurry… I’ll make it worth your while,” he said and coughed.
“That slice in your shirt might not seem like much, but I’ve seen men die from less.”
He coughed some more and then passed a folded hundred dollar bill up to me. I took the money and stomped on the gas. The customer is always right. I ran the next three lights and made some quick turns.
Nothing showed in the mirror, no headlights and luckily no cops either. I turned on Pico Boulevard and ran parallel to Wilshire just to be sure. The guy was wheezing. I smelled a stink like a sewer and knew that the wound was something like I had seen in the Great War. I hoped they have a doctor at the embassy or this guy wasn’t going to make it. I shot up Vermont and made a right on Wilshire. I was at 11766 lickety-split. The guy bolted from the backseat with more energy than I thought possible, and headed to the doors.
I heard two shots and saw the guy go down in a heap. A shadow of a man came away from the building and stooped over and riffled the pockets of the body. Whoever was behind us must have guessed his destination. I looked around and no one else was on the street. I felt my heart pounding. The shadowy guy stood looking around and spotted me. I decided it was time to leave. Stomping on the gas I swung the cab out into the street. My eyes were glued to the rear view mirror and sure enough a silhouette of a man appeared. He leveled what looked like a gun as I made a hard right squealing the tires and nearly losing a hub cap.
I thought about calling the police, but the blood stain on the money might lead them to believe I robbed the guy. I thought I better pony up the fare for the dispatch out of my pocket. When I unfolded the C note to put in my wallet a piece of paper fell out. It was a map with six points marked. No city name, no street names and the only land mark was an orange grove. Last thing I wanted was to be involved in a murder, especially one that the cops were as likely as not to pin on me. It was time to call Senka. Maybe with her gadgets she could help me figure out where it was and I’d go figure out what it was that would serve our two countries.
I took out my lighter, a fancy gift from Senka, it had an Egyptian motif with a bas-relief of Isis on it. I waited until the eye glowed green then popped the latch that let the rotary dial drop down from the bottom. I dialed a number and Senka answered on the first ring.
“Hello Brady,” came her velvety voice.
“Senka, I need to see you, I’m in the middle of something and need a little help… maybe more than a little.”
“You know where to find me,” Senka said as she hung up.
I snapped the rotary dial back in place and the lighter was just a fancy lighter again. I headed for 5th and Main. It was a piano store, and a front to an underground speakeasy. That speakeasy closed a long time ago, but the underground room is now an access to a secret network of tunnels.
I found my way in the pitch black tunnels through a long winding route lit only by the light of my lighter to what must have been a storage room. Broken kegs and shelves lined the walls. On one back wall, I found a wall sconce and gave it a pull.
Part of the wall unlatched and became a door. I went through the door, and stood facing Senka. She stood in a slender black dress, her hair unfurled around her shoulders. She made a gesture with her hand and the room lit up behind her. It looked like we were overlooking a tropical beach with waves washing up to her feet. If I were to ask how she did that she would tell me and that would go on until my eyes glazed over.
“Senka a man gave me this map before he died, and said something about doing a service to my country.”
“Better start at the beginning.” She said.
After I finished my story she sat examining the map without saying a word. She took the map and walked to the end of the room and made a sweeping gesture with her hand. A work bench extruded from the wall. She looked the map under a microscope and then smelled it. She took a chemical and pipet from a rack and then added a few drops to the page. As the fluid spread, rust colored script began to emerge.
“Ultra? What do you suppose that means?” I asked.
“I’m not sure, whatever it is it seems that it or a part of it can be found here, in this orange grove. Do you have some maps in your car? I think we might be able to narrow down the location.”
A few hours later Senka turned and smiled at me, “I think I found it. The angle of the railroad to the road that appears on the map are replicated in only a half dozen areas and only one has an orange grove nearby, I think the map is a section of Anaheim.”
“Anaheim? That’s about an hour drive from here. Thanks doll, I’ll head down there and let you know what I find.”
“Brady, if the passenger you had in your cab last night was a British spy, it goes without saying that he must have been spying on either German or Japanese interests. The need to get this “ultra” may very well be in the interests of both Britain and the USA, but it will undoubtedly be guarded.”
“Right, I’ll be careful,” I said.
“I think I should go along,” Senka said.
“Doll, I’ve seen what these people will do. I don’t think it is a good idea. I can always phone if I need help.”
“There might not be time for that. Our phones will only work in the city and who knows if you can find a phone in the countryside. It is too important; I need to be with you.”
She looked at me with those doe eyes and I had to say yes. Dames, what can you do?
It was late. She made a gesture and her workbench disappeared. Another wave of her hand and the floor came up to make a bed. I raised an eyebrow.
“It is the guest bed, Brady. I’ll be in my room.”
“Do I get a blanket?” She snapped her fingers and a projection of a pink quilt with red bows fell across the bed.
“Sorry Brady, you’re bunking in a girl’s house. The bathroom is through there,” she nodded in its direction.