King of the Jungle
All I ever wanted to do was be a great writer. Like Hemmingway and Fitzgerald, I wished to perfectly illustrate the plight of the hardworking poor and the ennui of the languid wealthy in equal measure, receiving accolades from intellectuals, statesmen and, of course, ladies for my piercing wit and skillful prose. I longed for the dim light and murmured discussion of the highest literary salons, where the finest critics would debate the hidden meaning of this sentence, or praise the complexity of my characters. And how would I die? Perhaps by drinking too much bootleg gin, or maybe my genius would become so great that it would overwhelm me and I would kill myself, to be remembered and studied in schools and universities forever after.
But instead of this solemn glory, I found myself facing death from both the flesh-hungry jaws of a pack of prehistoric monsters intent on devouring me and an army of bloodthirsty Nazi Waffen-SS soldiers intent on filling me with more bullets than there's drops of dew on a dappled lawn. But, I am getting ahead of myself.
My name is Sidney Sycamore. My parents changed their last name from something impossible to pronounce and Italian when they came through Ellis Island, and I kept it, for the way it rolls easily off the tongue. Unfortunately, the number of works published under my hallowed name consists of only a few bad poems in a college literary magazine. The vast majority of my stories and articles appeared under Randolph Parker, the house name for V.V. Pratt's pulp magazine, Adventure Tales.
I, or Mr. Parker, rather, have written about battles with fearsome tribes in the savage places of the world, daring explorations of the unknown, and enough romance of nubile jungle queens and society girls to make even an adolescent cringe. It wasn't so bad, giving my Underwood and my nimble fingers a constant work-out, and Adventure Tales did pay by the word. But V.V. Pratt was always on the lookout for a new angle that would put let his magazine leave all the others panting in the dust. He wanted to send me, Randolph Parker, on an actual adventure with the greatest humanitarian soldier of fortune in the world. And I, like a fool, agreed.
It was an opportunity, I told myself, that far outweighed its risks. For this story would require me to spend time with Cooper Grey II, the owner and founder of Apex Incorporated, and catalogue his exploits during an average day of work. Of course, I had heard of Cooper Grey. He used his vast fortunes and holdings on every continent, inherited by famed British explorer Lord Cooper Grey, for missions of relief to war zones and peacekeeping missions, all for the increase of human knowledge and the betterment of mankind. He maintained a private army of professionals in every field, and had devoted his life to combating evil and ignorance. And, most importantly of all, Cooper Grey was a gorilla.
I'm not speaking figuratively. Cooper Grey was a furry, muscular, intelligent and eloquent ape, of a previously unknown subspecies of gorilla. Needless to say, I agreed.
I spent a good week dealing with some insufferable ingrate by the name of Caldwell trying to gain admittance and finally succeeded. On a particularly cool Saturday, I risked the journey from my home in Brooklyn to Manhattan and the Apex Tower, for my exclusive with Cooper Grey, Ape Adventurer.
The Apex Tower made me feel like an insect gazing up at the glory of some national monument. It was a sheer obelisk of smooth steel, tapering to an end like the point of a spear, with thin Art Deco ridges along the corners. Zeppelins of various sizes were attached by long cables to the rooftop, floating slowly in the sky like bloated birds. Strange neon lights flared out from some of the windows, perhaps evidence of the secret labs that Apex Inc. maintained.
I stepped into the lobby, a spotless cavern of white marble, but before I could reach the very pretty receptionist, a sharply dressed young man in a white suit and red bow tie blocked my path and held out his hand.
"Mr. Sycamore?" he asked. "I'm Clayton Caldwell. We spoke on the phone." He looked me over, pursing his lips in distaste at my rumpled brown suit, vest and fedora. He had dark brown hair and a constant smirk floating around his face, as well a straw boater's hat. "Hildy will take your coat, such as it is. I'll escort you to the penthouse."
"Of course," I agreed, disposing of my overcoat and setting it on the desk. "In what capacity do you serve Mr. Grey, may I ask?" I produced my moleskin notebook and pencil, adjusted my spectacles and moustache, and poised myself to write words of glory.
"You might as well ask in what capacity I don't serve Mr. Grey, brother," Caldwell led me to the elevator. He slammed the uppermost button with a manicured finger, and we shot up like we had been fired from a cannon. "I'm his personal assistant, secretary, cook, tailor, adviser and above all right hand man." He paused. "And friend, I might add."
"He is an amiable and benevolent…person?" I asked, searching for the right word to describe Grey.
"Coop is a wonderful person," Caldwell agreed. "But why don't you see for yourself?"
With a short ring as mellifluous as birdsong, the elevator came to a stop. The doors slid open and we entered a wide, round two-story chamber, the walls full of bookshelves with a maze of ladders and walkways connecting them. There was a red carpet and several comfortable matching chairs and couches set on the floor. Cooper Grey II reclined in the largest armchair, dressed in a red silken smoking jacket. He looked up at me and Caldwell and nodded briefly. He had a cigar in his mouth and was reading Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
"Mr. Sycamore, I presume?" he said.
It was strange being in his presence. His sleek dark fur, round dome of a head, flared nostrils and forearms thick as sewer pipes radiated a primal power, but his manners were impeccable. His every movement had an assured quiet grace to it, and his deep voice was a low and stately rumble.
"Yes," I agreed. I stepped forward cautiously as he stood up. "Would this be a good time, Mr. Grey?"
"I suppose so." He placed a bookmark between the pages of his volume, and then used a hind leg to hoist himself onto a nearby ladder. In a few quick motions, he had clambered to the top of an adjacent bookshelf and deposited the book. He slid down with equal ease. "Do you read much, Mr. Sycamore?"
"Yes, sir," I said. "Very much. I prefer the more modern works. Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, and Steinbeck, to be precise."
"And I maintain a love of the classics. A legacy from my adoptive father, Lord Grey, I suppose," Grey said, slipping back into his chair. "I find most modern writers have a tedious desire to add pretentious depression to a story in the place of true pathos. Gives me Plutarch's Lives any day of the week, by gad, and that's good enough for me." He folded his stout legs. "Mr. Caldwell, could you bring us some tea and perhaps another cigar for Mr. Sycamore. I'd rather think he'd like to begin the interview."
"Of course, Coop," Caldwell agreed and strutted off.
Cooper Grey ashed his cigar on the stand near his chair. "Now, then," he said. "What is your first question?"
I composed myself, feeling my heart thundering inside of me. "W-well," I said. "I suppose I want to ask a simple 'why?' Why do you risk your life and fortune in the betterment of humanity? We are not even your own species."
"My species…" Grey repeated. "Hmmm. I am the last of my species, a subgroup of the Lowland Gorilla found only on Jangala Island, with great amounts of intelligence. The tribes which sometimes ventured there by canoe called us 'the Silver Ones.' My adopted father led an expedition to the island, when I was but a babe clinging to my mother's back. His explorers ran into trouble as Jangala Island is a very treacherous place. His expedition was attacked and my family rescued them. The entire troop was shot for their trouble." He paused, drumming his thick figures on the arm of his chair. "I remember them, sometimes…"
"Do you have any bitterness?" I asked.
"Not at all. Lord Grey was beside himself with guilt. He took me, the sole survivor of the massacre, back to his estate in the English countryside. He named me after himself and raised me alongside his own son, Christopher. We were inseparable." He paused, scratching his chin as he looked at the ceiling. "And now we come to the crux of the matter. Do you recall the Great War?"
"I was very young," I said. "I remember the Spanish flue, a little, but not the war."
"My father was very ill when war was declared and my brother had just come of age. There was a feeling of immense glory around the manor, despite my father's sickness. We bid him goodbye with pats on the shoulder and wisecracks, knowing that he would return with a hundred dead huns and a thousand medals. It was more than jingoism – it was a destiny we were fulfilling." Cooper's dark eyes lowered. "Christopher died, torn to shreds by a machine gun in some pointless offensive in the Somme. He was one of thousands torn apart by German machine gun rounds, his body never recovered."
"I'm sorry…" I said, my voice dropping to a whisper.
Cooper continued like he hadn't heard me. "We received the new that Christopher's platoon had been wiped out to the man. My father wept openly, the first time he had ever done so. He told me that there had been no point to Christopher's death, that the great nations of the world grind young men and innocents like corn to make their profits last a little longer. He told me that mankind would soon create weapons that could tear apart the world itself, and that we needed help to reach our apex. He begged me to help his race achieve that end." Cooper sighed deeply. "He died then, in my arms, and left the entirety of the family fortune to me." His eyes flashed up at me. "Does that answer your question?"
"It does," I said, finishing taking notes. Before I could make another inquiry, Clayton Caldwell returned with a tray of tea, cookies and cigars, and he was not alone. I shifted in my seat as I saw the woman accompanying him.
She was the most spectacularly beautiful woman I had seen, and I have an eye for the dames, I might add. She had dark hair cut short and eyes like shining jewels. Her perfect body was wrapped in a pair of leather trousers with a matching sheepskin-trimmed jacket, and a pair of goggles rested on a band above her eyes. She folded her arms and leaned against one of the bookshelves. I recognized her instantly – she was Ramona 'Raven' Roark, Cooper's personal pilot and expert aviatrix.
"Hey there, boss. Just got an invite to a big party on international waters by Evelyn Vogel and the Golden Scorpion Club," Ramona told Cooper. "Sounds like quite the to-do. You think we ought to make an appearance?"
"I do enjoy the company of the charming Miss Vogel," Cooper replied. "Why not?" He came to his feet, walking on his knuckles and then switching to stand on his hind legs. He turned to me. "Mr. Sycamore, this lovely young lady is Ramona Roark."
"I know," I said, wiping a hand across my forehead. I was suddenly aware of how disheveled my hair was. I hastened to smooth it. "I mean, I've heard of her."
Ramona looked at me. "That so?" she asked. "They get newspapers in the funny farms?"
"Now, now," Cooper said, with a wag of his finger. "He's a reporter, a writer for Adventure Tales."
"Ain't that the rag Harvey's always reading?" Ramona asked. She shrugged. "Well, nothing like a dime-stealing dime novelist for atmosphere. Is he coming along too, boss?"
"In that coat?" Caldwell asked. "I should think not."
"Clam up, Clayton," Ramona replied. "Maybe it can help with his story."
I looked to Cooper Grey for permission and he nodded. I smiled, with no idea of what I was getting myself into. "I'd be delighted," I said.
"Excellent." Cooper pawed towards one of the doors. "Ramona, kindly prepare the Hawk for a quick journey. Mr. Caldwell? Fetch my finest suit and hat, the Bombay silk, if you please. I must say goodnight to Miss Prumidge and young Harvey before our departure."
"Getting the glad rags, boss?" Ramona asked as she and Caldwell hurried off towards the elevator. "You know, the monkey suit?'
"Says the scarcely clothed, grease monkey," Caldwell replied sharply. They will still arguing when they reached the elevator.
I turned to Cooper. He shrugged his massive shoulders. "They are good friends," he said. "Despite contrary appearances. Now, please follow me. I think Harvey would like to make your acquaintance, by gad." He stared walked towards one of the doorways of his library. It led down a short wooden hall, with a single door at the end.
"And who is Harvey, exactly?" I asked, as Cooper gently pushed open the door.
He turned and smiled back at me. "My son," he said, and stepped inside. I followed with some haste. The room was clearly that of a boy around the age of twelve or thirteen. The shelves groaned under the weight of pulp magazines and dime novels, many of them featuring stories written, or perhaps excreted, by my own pen. Photographs, posters and a scattering of toys completed the room. And sitting cross-legged on the bed, his nose buried in the latest issue of Adventure Tales, was Harvey.
He wore a red vest over a collared shirt and tie, with spectacles on his upturned nose. He had dark curly hair and freckles, and smiled broadly when Cooper stepped inside. A tall statuesque woman stood next to him, looking with a frown at the mess. "Mr. Grey," Harvey said. "Hello!"
"And a hearty hello to you too, my boy." Cooper gave him a pat on the shoulder and it was a strange sight indeed to see true affection between the beast and the boy. "Harvey, this is Sidney Sycamore. I understand he writes for the very publication you are currently perusing."
"My pen name is Randolph Parker," I explained.
"Holy cow…" Harvey whispered, like I had been revealed as the messiah. He took a halting step towards me. "I really, really like your stories, sir. They're just swell," he said. I felt an ember of warmth inside of me. Perhaps there was something to be said for pulp fiction after all. "And you're going to write one about us?"
"That is the plan," I agreed.
The tall woman shook her head. She had golden hair, and a face that seemed fused in a frown. "And he'll have to write about the poor state of your room, Master Heller. I am sure his readers will not be impressed." She shook my hand. "I am Anne Prumidge, the librarian and researcher of Apex Inc. I hope your forgive me for this mess." Despite her glower, she was very pretty.
"Nix on that," I said. "My apartment's even worse."
Cooper coughed. "We are going to a little seaborne soiree this evening, aboard the Stinger, for the Gold Scorpion Club." He looked almost sadly at his little son. "So I must bid you goodnight now."
"Okay," Harvey agreed. "Have fun, Mr. Grey." He held out his hand and clasped Cooper's furry arm. The two linked eyes for a quick second, and then Cooper ruffled the boy's hair and headed for the door. I followed him. He walked down the hall at a good clip, talking as he went.
"His parents were murdered by fascist sympathizers," Cooper explained. "I failed to save them, in the early days of my career, and so I decided to raise their son as best as I could." He did not meet my eye as he talked. "Your species is capable of astounding cruelties, Mr. Sycamore, but when I look at Harvey Heller, I know that there is always the hope of goodness within you as well."
"That's…good to know," I agreed.
"Yes." Cooper motioned to the elevator. "Now, let us depart."
A couple minutes later, we were airborne. The Hawk was a maneuverable medium-sized dirigible, with a silver gasbag and a neat, three-room undercarriage. Ramona Rourke was at the controls, guiding us easily through the urban jungle of the Manhattan skyline and out over the open sea. In the central cabin, Clayton Caldwell helped Cooper Grey dress for the evening - in a black three piece suit and tie, with a matching bowler hat.
"Very stylish," I admitted, as Caldwell fussed over adjusting the collar of Cooper's suit.
"Yeah," Caldwell agreed. "And it's black, so when he sheds on it, the hairs are hard to spot!" He smiled to himself. "Now that is a nice little bit of pure genius, Mr. Sycamore. Feel free to write that in your book."
"Magazine," I corrected.
"Whatever." Caldwell finished the collar and moved onto the tie.
We were now soaring over the gray Atlantic, low enough so that I could see the swells rising and falling like the cliffs and valleys of far off mountains. There in the distance, right in the center of international waters – and away from Prohibition – was the Stinger. It was a golden luxury cruiser, its three brass smokestacks gleaming in the evening sun like a vision of some Hellenic palace. A small fleet of other boats, as well as airships and planes, surrounded it, all bringing guests to the party.
"Have you heard tell of the Golden Scorpion Club, Mr. Sycamore?" Cooper asked, as Ramona began our descent. "I should think not, for they are a secretive bunch. They're sybarites, really, devoted to excess and the wealth and power of their own members. But they're harmless enough, and their hostess is a charming woman."
Ramona stepped out of the cockpit and joined us. "Everything's jake," she said. "They took our cable and they're reeling us in." She nodded to Cooper Grey. "You sure look snazzy boss. Like Valentino, but with a little more fur."
"Thank you, Ramona." The automated doors rumbled open as a gangplank descended on the polished deck. "And you look quite fetching as well, by gad." And she did, having exchanged her trousers and jacket for a ruffled black dress. "Now, let's enjoy this party."
We walked down onto the deck and into another world. Well-dressed couples cruised up and down the length of the deck in the evening air, pausing at the numerous tables for canapés and drinks. It wasn't long before Cooper had a cigar smoldering in the corner of his mouth and a thin champagne glass in his massive hand. I managed to get a drink for myself, sipping it with some trepidation. I was certain the drops of expensive wine were worth more than similar drops of my own blood. In the distance, the New York skyline glittered like candlelight.
As the negro jazz band played on, I noticed several famous personages enjoying the shindig. "Say," I said. "Is that Mayor La Guardia? And is that Dali?" I craned my neck. "Holy God," I whispered. "That's Fitzgerald. That's F. Scott Fitzgerald."
Perhaps the greatest writer of my generation ambled towards us, a long baguette resting on his shoulder like a soldier's rifle. His suit was disheveled and he walked with an ambling limp. Fitzgerald was clearly inebriated. He walked past us and stopped suddenly, to look at Cooper. "Jesus Christ," he said, as I stammered to make an introduction. "There's a gorilla on the boat." He swung his baguette towards Cooper, mumbling out a strangled scream.
Cooper ducked the bread, and it crashed into my face. Fitzgerald dropped it and ran way, gurgling at the top of his lungs. I picked up the shattered piece of bread as I tried to readjust my glasses. "Wow," I said. "Fitzgerald himself."
"That's your idol, honey?" Ramona asked, stepping next to me. "Seems to me like you need a change in priorities."
"Don't we all?" That was from a tall woman in a shining golden gown, her hair done up in a single towering bun. She approached slowly, two bodyguards in matching golden tuxedoes on either side of her. She curtsied in front of Cooper. "Mr. Grey. It is a pleasure."
"Miss Vogel," Cooper said, taking her hand and giving it a quick kiss. "The pleasure is mine."
Evelyn giggled as she retracted her hand. "You are always were the gentleman, Mr. Grey. Remember our last little rendezvous? What was it, Marrakesh? My men were trying to smuggle out a few Babylonian idols, and you just had to stop them."
"They are vital for our knowledge of ancient Mesopotamia," Cooper replied. "I couldn't let you sell them as conversation pieces for some millionaire's parlor." He smiled, revealing his long teeth. "Besides, I have it on good authority that they were cursed. Your customers would have been most upset, believe me."
"Well, that's the thing, Coop," Evelyn said. "I don't." She smiled. "But speaking of artifacts, come over to the quarterdeck. There's something you simply must see."
She led us around, pausing to offer an occasional compliment or trade a bit of gossip with her high society guests. Cooper Grey waited politely through each conversation, pointedly ignoring every stare directed his way. He must have been used to being an object of curiosity, and while the attention annoyed him, his skin was thick enough so that he didn't care. I wished I was like him, and as I felt prickles of apprehension running up and down my back with each dismissive glance someone thrown my way.
We reached the quarterdeck, and Cooper took a slow step forward to the object of Evelyn Vogel's interest. It was a stone fist, resting a red velvet pillow on a steel pedestal. The fist was of dark gray rock, set with spirals of silver in the knuckles and base of the hand. It was too big to be a human's hand, but then I looked at Cooper Grey and realized that this was the artist's version of a gorilla's fist.
"The Monkey's Fist," Vogel explained. "Just recovered from the dustbins of Portuguese traders and donated to the Scorpion Club by an unknown source." She patted the ancient stone. "It was originally taken from—"
"Jangala Island," Cooper said. "The gorillas who dwelt there – the Silver Ones – stayed away from the ruins, but we knew of their existence. They knew who had built them, and how they had been reduced to broken stones, long before the rise of man." He paused. "Their builders were not men, you see, but apes. Our own kind, deep in the past."
Caldwell sniffed the air. "Your people went from living in stone cities to crawling about in a jungle? Seems a poor decision, Coop."
"The cities were destroyed," Cooper continued. "By a force I can only imagine. Our civilization was shattered so profoundly that only in the jungle did the Silver Ones find peace." He turned away. "You should not sell this, Miss Vogel. It is dangerous and in the wrong hands…" he trailed off as two individuals in black leather uniforms and peaked caps approached. "It could rend the world asunder."
We all faced the two newcomers. I knew from their uniforms that they were Nazis, and not just any type of Hitler's minions, but SS men. They proudly wore the Death's Head insignia on the brims of their caps and their shoulders, and moved with a kind of disdainful swagger that made me want to get out of the way. One was a bald man with smoked glasses, who was constantly scratching behind his ears and shivering. The other was a tall Teutonic fellow, handsome as a painting of Aryan propaganda, with smooth blonde hair and a square chin. He had a long dueling scar running across his cheek, which marred his beauty like a spray of paint on a masterpiece. He even carried an officer's sword at his side, like he was some old fashioned Prussian soldier from the 1800s.
Vogel laughed nervously. "These are two of my German associates," she said. "This is Dr. Von Essler and Colonel Klaus Weltzmann."
"I've heard of you," Cooper said darkly. "Klaus Weltzmann. Himmler's Angel, so called. And you're both Thule Society stooges." He took a step backwards.
Colonel Weltzmann smiled and nodded. "Indeed. And I have heard of you, Herr Grey. You are the gorilla that wants to save the world. Your adventures amuse me to no end, I must say. I have read of them in the barracks and laughed long and hard." He folded his hands. "As for your political leanings, I am less than impressed. And your choice in adopting a child? Well, Herr Grey, there the good humor comes to an end."
I saw Cooper Grey ball his massive hands into fists, but he otherwise remained perfectly calm. Still, one could easily sense the bestial rage radiating off of him. "I must compliment you on your English, colonel," he said. "And I'm afraid that's the only nice thing I have to say to you."
Weltzmann shrugged. "The words of trained animals are not important to me. Particularly those that surround themselves with subhuman swine and other degenerates." His eyes flashed at Clay Caldwell. "Step aside, Herr Grey. I wish to admire the Monkey's Fist."
"I suggest you change your intentions, colonel," Grey replied. "Or you'll see a gorilla's fist. Up close."
"You would stand in the way of the Reich's interest?" Weltmann wondered with a raised eyebrow.
"It's what I do," Grey replied.
"Pity." Weltzmann pulled a golden watch from his coat and checked it. He nodded to himself and muttered something in German to Dr. Von Essler. The scientist straightened up, and gulped.
Now Cooper became more agitated. He snorted and stepped closer to Weltzmann. "I speak German fluently," he said. "I learned so I might read Goethe in the original language. And you just told your simpering little friend there that's 'it's time'. Kindly explain what you're talking about, and in English, if you don't mind."
Colonel Weltzmann grinned. "Very well, Herr Grey. Simply put – it is time for us to leave."
The conversation and jazz music around us was suddenly blared out by the roaring thunder of high powered engines. I had no idea what was going on, and looked up and down the boat, trying to sense the cause of the noise. I felt panic run through me, the nervousness of meeting Grey, the tension of his argument with the SS soldiers and the wonder of meeting Ramona coming to a head. Then I felt Ramona's thin fingers, strong and steel wire, grabbing my shoulder and pulling me and Caldwell back.
"Boss!" Ramona Roark cried. "They're coming in from the sky! Messerschmitts, and they ain't here for the champagne!" She looked at Weltzmann and Von Essler. "And I bet I know the krauts that called them in."
Sure enough, a dozen of the deadly monoplanes, with yellow wingtips and black crosses, came swooping down over the Stinger, letting out occasional strafing blasts of rattling machine gun fire. The rich mahogany of the deck was gouged and splintered by their bullets, and several of the guests leapt overboard and sought shelter in the churning sea. Despite my embarrassment at meeting him, I kind of hoped Fitzgerald would make it.
I was hiding under a table with Caldwell and Ramona. Clayton Caldwell cursed as he reached into his coat and pulled out a stiletto throwing knife. "Cheese and crackers," Caldwell muttered. "Those idiots must really want that stone hand. Ramona, how's Coop doing?"
Ramona had drawn a Mauser pistol from her purse. She peered out, aiming the pistol with one hand. "Ah nuts," she said. "He's messing it up with those Nazi gun thugs, but they got him dead to rights." She broke cover at a run. "Hold on, boss!" she cried. Caldwell was quick on her heels, as was I, though I was unarmed and didn't know what else to do.
The Messerschmitts were circling slowly, as a lumbering Nazi zeppelin followed them in from the east. The swastikas on the gasbag made me wince as it swung low. We reached the quarterdeck, where Cooper Grey was defending Evelyn Vogel from Weltzmann, Von Essler, and half a dozen Nazi goons that had emerged from the crowd as soon as the fighter planes had began their run.
Cooper was a frightening spectacle to behold in combat, pulverizing the German soldiers with his fists, while Miss Vogel cowered behind him. The SS soldiers tried to land rifle shots on him, but Cooper Grey was amongst them like a living flame of black fur. He slugged a German in the chest, pitched another over the railing, and grabbed the rifle of a third, breaking the weapon over the soldier's skull. Cooper Grey let out a fearsome roar, delivering another brutal pair of punches with his rear legs.
Weltzmann and Von Essler took the opportunity to grab the Monkey's Fist, just as the zeppelin lowered a rope ladder from its undercarriage. "Stop them, by gad!" Cooper cried. "There's no telling what damage they could do!"
Ramona raised her Mauser and started cracking off shots. One of the German riflemen tried to pick her off and received a bullet between his eyes for his trouble. But even as his body tumbled over the railing, Weltzmann and Von Essler were scrambling up the rope ladder, the monkey's fist clutched firmly under the arm of Himmler's Angel.
Colonel Weltzmann grinned as he reached the top, a massive German bruiser opening the door to let him in. "Goodbye, Herr Grey!" he called. "I would find it amusing to stay and bandy words with you. But I am needed on Jangala Island. The everlasting victory of the Fuhrer, after all, cannot wait."
Cooper hurled a table after them, growling ferociously as it smashed on the closed zeppelin door. He turned away, squaring his shoulder and ignoring the bursts of machine gun and rifle fire that arced around him. "We'll take the Hawk," he announced. "Radio back to Apex Tower and proceed after them." He turned away, even as Evelyn Vogel and the other stunned guests came to their feet. Above us, the Nazi planes and their zeppelin were speeding away.
Vogel reached out to touch Cooper's arm. "I'm sorry—" she started, but he pulled away.
"What did you expect from such men?" Cooper asked, speaking the last word like a curse. He walked on his knuckles, speedily scrambling away.
I hurried after him, while Ramona ran ahead to prepare the Hawk. "Um, Mr. Grey?" I asked. "Perhaps I can arrange a return to New York. After all, I think I have more than enough material to finish a decent sized story, and I'm sure that I'd only get in your way. Perhaps you could drop me off before you fly off to Jangala Island?"
"I'm afraid that's simply impossible, Mr. Sycamore," Cooper said, as the Ramona entered the Hawk. "We don't have the time." He looked over at me. "And I must say, sir, that I think you are more useful than you give yourself credit for. You won't be a burden, I promise you that."
His words did not please me. I was risking my life, and for what? A few dollars in a paycheck from my publisher? A by line that was not even my own name? Delighting an audience of Harvey Heller with Cooper Grey's ventures? This was not what I wanted to charge into danger for.
But then I thought about Ramona, who would also be soaring into the jaws of doom, and how Cooper Grey leapt at the chance to save the world of man, without care or the slightest fear. I felt ashamed and I nodded. "I hope so, sir," I told Mr. Grey, as I hurried up the gangplank to the Hawk.
Ramona Roark had us speeding after the Germans within seconds of lift-off. Even though we soon lost their aerial fleet amidst the banks of moonlight-pierced clouds, we knew their destination – Jangala Island – and we set a course for the coast of Africa. Cooper Grey exchanged his dark suit and bowler hat for a khaki shirt, matching trousers and a pith helmet, all left over from his father. Clayton Caldwell nodded as Cooper set the pith helmet on his head.
"Clothes do make the man," he said. "Just as they make the gorilla."
"That's good to know, Mr. Caldwell," Cooper agreed, his thick hands falling to the Webley revolvers at his waist. "But I trust these weapons will prove more impressive to the Nazis. Modified them myself, you know." He looked at me. "Do you need a weapon?"
"I always did say the pen is mightier than the sword," I said with a shrug. "And I lost every schoolyard fracas I've ever picked. I would barely know which side the bullets come out of."
"Then maybe you'd better learn, newshound." Ramona walked in from the cockpit, her hands on her hips. "We're on course, boss. All the way express to Jangala Island."
I knew a little of our destination. Besides Lord Grey's expedition, visitors to the island were rare. It was always spoken in hallowed whispers by true adventures, and anyone who risked a journey was expected to bring many bullets and a willingness to stare death in the face. I didn't like the idea of going there. Jangala Island belonged on the printed page of a boy's adventure yarn, not as an actual destination. But complaining would do nothing to ease my predicament.
Cooper Grey nodded to Ramona. "Excellent," he agreed. "And you sent a radio message back to Apex Tower?"
"That's right. Miss Prumidge picked it up just fine, the crazy bird." She leaned against the wall, pulling up her goggles and looking at me. "What are you staring at, you palooka?" she asked.
'Her eyes' was the correct answer, but I turned away and coughed. "Um, nothing," I said.
Cooper Grey stood up and moved to the rear cabin. "I think I shall get some rest, by gad," he said. "I have a feeling I'll need it." He ambled away, walking on his knuckles. Caldwell lay back in his seat, snoring loudly. The only ones there were Ramona and myself.
She sat down next to me, carefully reloading her Mauser. "So," she said. "You're a scribbler for the pulps, right?"
"Right," I agreed.
"Well, Harvey likes them, so I guess they can't be all bad." She turned and smiled at me. "But you sure you're up to this, pal? Things are gonna get good and hot, I can promise you that. I know Coop thinks you've got what it takes, and he's a good judge of character, but he is a gorilla, after all."
I decided to change the subject, with a characteristic lack of skill. "And how does that feel?" I asked. "Working under a gorilla?"
"Refreshing, actually. Cooper Grey doesn't give a damn what color your skin is or if you wear a skirt or not. All that's important is if you're a good person and if you can do the goddamn job." She nodded to herself as she slid another clip into the Mauser. "And I can do the goddamn job."
"And you're a good person?"
Ramona laughed. "You literary fellows, about as subtle as a hammer to the face." She handed me the Mauser. "Come on. Let me show how to shoot."
I nodded weakly and she told me the basics of breathing, aligning sights and squeezing the trigger that were all needed for putting a bullet where one wanted it to go. We worked through the night and through the remainder of our journey across the Atlantic Ocean, flying southwards into warm and clear equatorial waters.
Ramona was strange, there was no doubt about that. She was strong, tough as sun-hardened leather and had a mean streak wider than a college football field. But when she wasn't making jibes at my expense, she was polite and kind. It was a testament to that part of her, that I hardly noticed the hours passing by.
Luckily, Ramona Rourke was more attuned to the passage of time than I. She stood up and nodded, holstering her Mauser. "Right," she said, opening a nearby crate. "I'll get you a weapon from the armory. Colt automatic should be fine. Just tuck it in your pocket and don't go pointing it at anything ain't trying to kill you or eat you." She handed me the pistol and I took it.
"Eat me?" I asked. It was an alarming prospect to be certain.
She was already moving to the cockpit. "Buckle up, buddy," she muttered, before disappearing out of the middle cabin.
I heard the engine of the airship rumble as it sank down from the sky. Out of the porthole, I saw the clear ocean give way to the green tangle of Jangala Island. It was a solid emerald disc, a thousand shades of green rearing around several squatting, square mountains in the island's center. There were no beaches, merely the sea seeping in through the trees in dense mangrove swamps, so it was hard to tell where the ocean ended and the island began. The trees reared up like a madman's metropolis, all coated in vines and intertwined branches. The hills in the center seemed strangely regular.
"Those aren't mountains." Cooper's deep voice came near my side. I turned and nodded at him. "They're ruins. The Silver Ones built that city, one to rival any of the towns of men, before they were destroyed by an unknown force."
Next to me, Clay Caldwell woke up with a snort. He rubbed sleep from his eye and adjusted his bowtie. "What's the rumpus?" he asked. "We there?"
"It would appear so," Cooper agreed. "Ramona, have you identified a suitable landing site?"
The airship moved suddenly under my feet, knocking me back into my seat. Cooper grabbed onto the door handle with a free hand. "Sorry, boss!" Ramona called. "There's a clearing right past the swamps, but it's already occupied by the goose-steppers." She swore as she sent the Hawk flying upwards. "They've got tents, tanks – and anti-aircraft flak cannons."
"Egads!" Cooper cursed. The almost soft explosion of flak cannons cracked through the air, and a dark cloud spat to life outside of the window. The airship careened to the left, as another shot rocked the undercarriage. "They must have arrived here weeks ago," Cooper muttered to himself. "They must have planned this bloody business from the start."
The flak guns thundered again, and I reached for the seatbelt. Caldwell and Cooper Grey did the same. The next shot whistled past the cockpit and Ramona cursed. "Nuts! They got the gasbag! We're gonna get a lot closer to this island and lot faster, boss!" She tried to control the airship as it plummeted from the sky and slammed into the forest.
Branches cracked and shattered as the undercarriage shot forward. The straps of the seatbelt tore into my shoulders, and only one of Cooper's strong hands kept me from flying out and taking my leave through the nearest porthole. Metal shrieked as branches tore at the undercarriage and I prayed like I was a child for a merciful stop that didn't end in an all-consuming fireball.
We finally did stop, and I sighed deeply as I leaned forward. The metal around me was twisted and the ruined gasbag settled over the branches slowly, but we were alive. Caldwell drew out his stiletto and slashed open the seatbelts. Cooper freed himself using his teeth as Ramona stepped carefully into the middle cabin. She gingerly touched the door and it swung open. She kicked out the rope ladder. We were caught in the branches of a mangrove tree, shallow swamp water below us.
"We lost the cargo bay. Spilled across the island," Ramona said, wiping blood from her forehead. "And she won't fly again."
"Distress signal?" Cooper asked, reaching into the crate and withdrawing a Thompson submachine gun. He strapped it on like it was an umbrella for a rainy day and not a high-powered weapon.
"Managed to send one out just before the radio failed. No way to tell if any Tom, Dick, or Harry could pick it up all the way out here."
Cooper moved to the rope ladder, swinging the Thompson onto his back. "Good enough," he said. "Come along, now. Remaining in one location on Jangala Island is a recipe for disaster and a swift death. We should keep moving – and take the fight to the Nazis."He clambered down with the ease of gorilla and soon stood on his knuckles in the shallow, brackish swamp water.
Ramona and Caldwell followed, but I stayed put, staring down at the jungle. "Do you really think that's wise?" I asked. "I don't know what we can do on our own and—"
"We're the only ones here, bo," Caldwell replied. "And Hitler's hounds may have the dingus, the guns and high ground – but we got Coop."
I sighed. "Mr. Pratt doesn't pay me nearly enough," I said, as I started down the ladder. Soon my loafers were soaked in the swamp water, and I tentatively followed Ramona Roark, Clayton Caldwell, and Cooper Grey down further into Jangala Island. The mangrove trees were further apart here, the roots reaching down into the water like the gnarled fingers of a man dying of thirst and attempting to grab up a fistful of moisture. The roots were alive with crabs, each the size of my closed fist, that clicked and clacked their way up and down from the water.
We moved onto dryer land, but my relief was short lived. Ever bird cry, monkey's chatter or stranger roar seemed to me a harbinger of utter doom. I saw a strange skeleton lying on the ground, and found it terribly familiar. As I noted the sharp teeth and reptilian head, I realized that I had seen one just like it – in the Museum of Natural History.
"Dinosaurs?" I asked. "There are prehistoric reptiles here?"
"It is a land lost in time," Cooper explained. "Evolution has taken strange turns here, and perhaps the breeding and experiments of the old Silver One civilization added to the strange ecology." He turned to look at me, his dark eyes flashing around the misty canopy. "And dinosaurs are the least of our worries."
We continued to walk on in silence. We came to a grove of pale white trees, where bones lay heavily on the ground. The air seemed crisp and terrible here, and I stared at my feet to avoid tripping on some exposed skull or ribcage. Everything was silent as a tomb, until it was interrupted by Caldwell's gasp.
"Cripes!" Caldwell shouted, tearing some thin, silky strand from the front of his white coat. "It just fell on me, from out of nowhere." He rubbed his hands together. "Sticks like glue, damn it!"
Cooper raised his tommy gun. "In the trees!" he cried. "By gad, there they are!"
I looked up and saw one of Jangala Island's least friendly residents. It squatted in eight furry legs in the upper boughs of the tree, eight pitiless black eyes staring down at us as venom-slicked mandibles slammed silently open and shut. Large webs stretched between the trees, many with large clumps of bone and flesh, some still horribly wriggling, caught between their strands. The worst part about the giant spider? It was not the only one. Each tree had its own spider, and they all slowly edged forward, aching to devour us.
Slowly, Cooper spoke a few growls and hoots, sounding very much like a gorilla. "In the tongue of the Silver Ones," he said. "They are called 'Eight-Legged Death.'"
"Sounds like your relatives knew what they were talking about," Ramona said. "Come on! Let's dangle!" She started to run forward, with Caldwell and me close behind. One of the spiders lunged for us, sending out a spray of spider silk. I took Ramona by the waist, grabbed Caldwell's knee and caught my foot.
Cooper raised his tommy gun and opened fire, pumping a burst of gunfire directly through the spider's head. He roared out a challenge as he spun around and threw himself back, letting out another salvo of sub-gun fire at a spider attacking him from behind. The bullets ripped through the thick exoskeleton of the massive arachnid, spilling greenish gore across the pale trees like some mad painter's ultimate project.
Clayton had his knife out and was sawing furiously at the webbing, while Ramona and I drew our pistols. Ramona cracked away at an approaching spider, stopping its skittering with a well-placed round the skull. I tried to stop my hands from my shaking as a giant spider swung down from the upper branches of nearby tree and finally blasted open its abdomen with an ill-timed shot. Spider guts spilled onto my shoulders.
"Blazes!" I cursed.
"Don't worry," Caldwell said, finally finishing in hacking away the last of the spider web. "I know just the recipe for stain removal." He turned to Cooper. "Come on, Coop! Let's make some tracks!"
We followed Caldwell's instructions, immediately making our speedy departure from that charnel grove of Eight-Legged Death. Cooper Grey was the last to leave the pale, cobweb-strung trees, firing his tommy gun all the while. He hurried to join us, reloading quickly with all four of his dexterous limbs. With a quick nod, Cooper assured us he was unharmed, and we continued into the jungle.
The greenery grew denser as we progressed, and the vines and creepers seem to purposely drape across the muddy pathway, slowing our progress. Bright tropical birds fluttered along the upper branches in sudden explosions of color in the dark underbrush. The sunlight seemed to rarely reach this far below the canopy, and the jungle felt constricting and suffocating. I held onto my fedora with one hand and my Colt automatic with the other, silently cursing my publisher and editor with each step.
Perhaps a half an hour after escaping from the spiders, another danger befell us. Cooper raised a hand and his great dark nostrils sniffed the air. Ramona noticed his sudden stop. "What is it, boss?" she asked. "Nazis?"
"No," Cooper replied. "The scent is…too sweet." He turned around, raising his tommy gun at me and leaning on the trigger. For a split second, I thought he was going to send a magazine's worth of lead messengers through me, but they rattled over my head like a nest of hornets. Something heavy thudded into the mud behind me.
I turned around and saw a strange simian variety of lizard, a reptilian monster the size of small statured man, with azure and mottled green scales, and a brightly colored crest lowering in death. It had claws like curved straight razors and teeth sharp enough to shred flesh and muscle with ease.
"The Climbing Lizards," Cooper explained. "Perhaps some natural evolution of the saurian genus. Perhaps some laboratory-bred creation of the ancient Silver One civilization. Either way, they are hungry and numerous."
The primordial stillness of the pristine jungle, interrupted by the usual calls of birds and monkeys, now seemed alive with the rustle of clawed feet on low-hanging branches. I pointed my gun at the canopy, standing next to Cooper, Ramona and Caldwell. "I cannot see them," I said. "Are they hidden?"
"Color-changing scales. The Silver Ones called them 'the Hidden Death,'" Cooper explained. "My people were always direct in their nomenclature. Keep your wits about you now, for I can smell they're – egads!" He raised his tommy gun and started firing, motioning us to move back. The forest was suddenly alive with our attackers.
The Climbing Lizards swung down on us from the nearby trees, claws outstretched and jaws open. Cooper Grey's tommy gun gave them pause, and if any managed to sneak up on him, he would crack their scaly faces apart with a well-aimed, powerful punch. Ramona, Caldwell and I stayed close to him, firing at whatever lizard reared its monstrous head.
I fired once, twice, and three times, all without knowing if I had hit my target. The automatic bucked in my hands and I doubted I would ever grow used to firing it. A climbing lizard pounced on us from a nearby tree trunk, and Ramona shot it dead through the throat with her Mauser. It shifted colors a dozen times before it hit the ground, like living, multi-colored flame was running across its skin.
Before the shock of the attack had passed, another lizard grabbed onto my leg and dragged me down. I raised my automatic to fire as its talons dug into my ankle. If not for a timely thrown knife from Caldwell, the Climbing Lizard would have finished me. His dagger struck into the beast's open mouth, embedding the blade deep in the reptilian brain. I kicked off the lizard and picked myself up. My heart was pounding and I felt the contents of my guts attempting to crawl out through my throat.
"I did not agree to this!" I bellowed. "I demand to be taken out of this green Hell!"
Ramona grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back, firing her Mauser at several lizards in the tree. "Clam up, newshound!" she retorted. "Now ain't the time for your whining!" She turned to Coop, who continued blazing away with protracted bursts of his sub-gun. "What do you figure, boss?" she asked.
No sooner had the question passed her lips than Cooper Grey's tommy gun clicked empty. He had not brought an additional drum magazine. With a low animalistic snarl, Cooper tossed down the Thompson and pulled out one of his Webley revolvers. He pulled something from his belt with one of his prehensile feet, and I realized with some alarm that it was a grenade.
"Run," he replied, pulling the pin from the grenade and hurling it above us.
Caldwell and Ramona grabbed my shoulders and nearly carried me away from the tall trees. My own feet started to move, perhaps on their own accord and perhaps not, and carried me along at a good rate. Cooper stayed behind, firing with his pistols until the last possible second. Then he took off at a four-legged run, madly dashing to our side. The jungle path sloped under our feet and if it was not for Ramona's strong grip, I would have tumbled forward like a clumsy child.
Behind us, the grenade exploded somewhere in the upper branches of the tree, followed by the grating shrieks of the Climbing Lizards. A severed clawed hand, still smoldering, fell right before me. I shrieked a little, and I wasn't even embarrassed at the noise. I kicked away the limb and we stopped our panicked run.
After pausing for breath, I regained some of my wits and composure. "That's all?" I asked, staring down at my feet. We stood on a hill in the dim sunlight, mostly free of strangling vegetation. "Dear God, let that be all." All of my companions were strangely silent.
"Not nearly." I looked up and saw Colonel Klaus Weltzmann standing at the base of the hill, along with a full platoon of SS soldiers. The Nazi Elite had their rifles and submachine guns aimed at us, and had even brought a grey Panzer tank, which swung its turret to face us. Behind them were the ruins, jungle-shrouded and reaching into the blue sky. They were angular buildings, regular as the skyscrapers of New York, but all of tan, moss-flecked stone. I could make out idols or statues of gorillas standing amidst the ruins, defiant despite the destruction of their Silver City.
Weltzmann wasn't smiling, his hands in the pocket his officer's great coat. The broad-shouldered, muscled Nazi stood behind him. Weltzmann walked forward, one hand on the handle of his rapier. "Herr Grey," he said. "I see you have followed us."
"The Monkey's Fist, you fascist fiend!" Cooper stalked forward, opening his mouth to reveal white curved teeth. "What have you done with it?"
"That old thing?" Weltzmann shrugged. "I have quite forgotten about it, for it matters nothing to the Fatherland. We came to this island last year, you know. Part of the SS's Ahnenerbe Research Division arrived to study the ruins for proof of Aryan supremacy. So strange that our desire to discover our glories of the past paved the way for our glories of the future." Now he smiled, a cunning gash of a grin. "The Silver Ones – your species, Herr Grey - ruled an empire that spanned the globe while man still dwelt in caves. But then their own weapons, doomsday superweapons, destroyed them into their present savage state. One of those weapons, the Earth Render, lies within those ruins. But for the ancient device to function, it requires—"
"A Silver One's presence," Cooper whispered. "The ancient crystals must sense a nearby Silver One for the weapons to work. By gad, you lured me here, you bastards. You needed me for your insane scheme to end the world and so you brought me here and set a trap."
"Indeed," Weltzmann agreed. "You are a clever monkey. But not so clever now, I think." He shouted in harsh German to his troops and they moved forward, charging up the hill in a rustle of leather coats and steel helmets. "Resist and your friends will be shot," Weltzmann said, turning his back on us all.
I held out my hands to the approaching Germans. "Now see here," I said. "There must be some—" A rifle butt struck my gut and I felt something white and hot burn behind my eyes. I crumpled to the grassy ground, folding up and gagging.
My friends fared little better. Ramona raised her Mauser and managed to blast one of the Nazis, but her arm was grabbed until she was forced down, cursing and kicking. They wrestled her to the ground and put a bayonet to her throat. Caldwell ran to her side, only to receive a kick to the face from the broad-shouldered slab of a German, which sent him sprawling. Cooper roared as his arms formed a furry windmill of blows and strikes, sending battered Germans rolling down the hill. But he was too was finally held at gunpoint, dragged down by the sheer number of soldiers.
Weltzmann stood over him, still barking out commands to his men. They bound Cooper's legs and hands and hoisted him up, carrying him away to the ruins. "You will serve your purpose, ape," he said. Then he looked back at Ramona, Caldwell and myself. "But what of this trio of subhuman scum?" He shrugged. "Rolf, remain here with a few men and the Panzer. Deal with them, in your own way."
"Jawohl." The big Nazi stepped forward, cracking his knuckles and looking with sick longing at Ramona. "It will be pleasure." His accent was thicker than my mother's tomato soup, and his words slow and slurred.
"Rolf the Rat, we call him. The trench rat, it means," Weltzmann explained. "Took one too many blows to the head from an entrenching tool during the Great War. He is not smart, but he is strong – the perfect soldier."
Cooper still struggled, despite bleeding bayonet wounds on his arms, and bruises on his furry face. "You won't survive this, Weltzmann!" he roared. "Mark my words!" His cursed devolved into growls and hoots, the brutal insults of the jungle.
"Consider them marked," Weltzmann replied. He nodded goodbye to us, and followed his men into the ruins.
I lay on the ground, too terrified to even emit a whine or plaintive cry. I was going to die soon, and there was not a thing I could do to preserve my life. My literary career consisted of a smattering of pulp fiction spew, my love life was in similar tatters and now I was going to die. I looked up at poor Ramona Roark, who sat on the ground with an SS soldier's bayonet at her throat. Rolf had chosen her first, and was walking towards her, luger in hand.
Right then and there, I resolved I would at least die on my feet. I stood up and moved over to her. "Pardon me, sir," I told Rolf the Rat. "But she is a woman, and a pretty one at that, and deserves better." I squared my shoulders as the hulking Teuton faced me. "And perhaps…" I said, my mouth going dry. "You could pick on someone your own size."
Rolf nodded. "Ja," he agreed, with a quick nod. He struck my chin and I went down again, falling onto the slick grass. Rolf chuckled. He was like some cruel child playing with a particularly fleshy insect, and I had the misfortune to be the bug.
Ramona sat up. "Gee, Sycamore," she said. "That's nice of you, but maybe you had better lie down."
I did not. I came to my feet, facing Rolf the Rat and squaring my shoulders. I expected another bash with his mammoth fist, or perhaps a swift bullet to the face from his luger. I found myself looking over Rolf's massive shoulder, staring out at the green field and the Panzer Tank with its turret facing us. Something was moving towards the tank, something large and impossibly fast.
Two muscled legs carried the beast forward. A long tail stabilized the reptilian, swinging back in forth in time with its footfalls. Powerful curved claws clutched the air, while a blunt snout opened to reveal teeth like Bowie knives. And the dinosaur predator wasn't alone. Three of the mighty animals headed our way, loping across the green field straight for the assembled Nazis.
It was Clayton Caldwell who recognized them. "Allosaurus, king of the Mesozoic," he told Rolf the Rat. "You fellows are in for it now."
The Allosaurs did not disappoint. They smashed into the Nazi ranks like scaly cannonballs, tossing soldiers in the air with their powerful legs, catching them between their jaws and gouging their flesh with their long claws. Nazi weapons sputtered into the sides of the animals, as Rolf screamed incomprehensive German at them. The Panzer turned its turret and fired at one of the dinosaurs, the shot missing and raising a fountain of dirt and flame on the hillside.
We watched in awe as one of the Allosaurs took on the tank, an SS soldier still dripping in its cavernous mouth. Ramona took my arm. "Maybe we should hoof it," she said, as the Allosaur slammed a long leg into the iron side of the Panzer. The tank rocked back and forth, and the Allosaur tore at the main hatch on the turret. "I don't think we're gonna get a better distraction."
It was mesmerizing watching nature's prime killing machines slaughter their way through the Germans, but I felt Ramona's firm grip on my arm, and let myself be turned away. I heard staccato gunfire and another deafening explosion behind me, followed by victorious roars of the Mesozoic monsters. But I ignored them, and broke into a run. Caldwell was close behind, pausing only to grab our weapons from the grassy ground.
"Nein!" The harsh voice of Rolf the Rat came from behind us. We turned around and saw him running after us, luger in hand and ignoring the deep red cut in his chest. "You will not escape!" he bellowed. An Allosaur loped after it, powerful muscles driving it with ease over the grassland. I did not know which of our pursuers I feared more.
"Go screw." Ramona aimed her Mauser and fired, blasting Rolf in the knee. The big German went down – right into the path of the Allosaur. While the hungry dinosaur stopped to enjoy its newfound banquet, Ramona, Caldwell and I dashed to the base of the hill.
I felt the boundless energy of the hunted flowing through my veins like ice water. I wanted to run, away from Jangala Island, away from Cooper Grey and his Nazi foes, and all the way to Brooklyn and my parents' house, where I would sit in my bed and drink warm soup while it rained outside. I forgot about even Ramona as I charged forward, not looking at all where I was going. I tripped on something hard and wooden, tumbling head over heels and landing on the ground.
"Holy Mary, mother of god!" I cried, pulling myself up. "Come on! We must get out of here and—"
"Hold it." Ramona grabbed my collar and pulled me back. "Look what you tripped over, smart guy." She pointed to the ground, and I saw that it was a large wooden crate, with the Apex Industries Logo stamped on the side. "Must a fallen out of our cargo bay when we screamed over the island, taking fire from this Kraut AA guns."
Caldwell nodded. "Pretty lucky, I'd say," he said, and started pulling open the lid.
"Lucky?" I asked. "Oh, that's just the word I'd use to describe this little disaster of a tropical vacation!" Ramona helped Caldwell move the lid and both of them looked inside. "My god!" I cried. "We've been shot down, blown up, nearly eaten by spiders, lizards, and bigger lizards, to say nothing of the maniacal fascists who want to kill us for sport! If this is luck, then I'd hate to be cursed!" My face was red and hot. "Are you even listening to me?" I demanded.
"Not really, Sycamore." Ramona reached into the crate and pulled out a strange backpack. It appeared to be two black tubes fused together, with straps for a person to cross over their chest. There was a small trigger device on a wire attached to the backpack. Ramona nodded as she strapped one on. "Jetpack," she explained. "The boss ordered a few special from Howard Hughes himself." She looked up and smiled. "Good news, newshound – there's three of them."
"I'll keep my feet firmly on the ground, thank you!" I said, turning away.
"Come on, brother." Caldwell approached me as he strapped his own on. "A third person and a third gun could make all the difference when we're freeing Coop from the Nazis." He paused and sighed. "Look, I know you're not used to this, and that's fine. But it's the free world that's at stake in there, and my boss, and friend's life."
"I don't give a damn!" I turned around, my temper losing control. "This isn't my line of work! I just wanted to write a cheap pulp story and get paid by the word, not save the goddamn world!" I crossed my arms. "It's not my problem and I don't care!"
There was silence. Caldwell said something under his breath and turned away. But Ramona stayed looking at me. "So all that stuff you write on a daily basis – heroism, derring-do, battling evil, the goodness of humanity – all that stuff Harvey loves, you just don't care about."
"It's a paycheck, sister!" I replied.
"Yeah," Ramona muttered. "But you know who does care? Cooper Grey II. He ain't even human, and he's more of a man than you." She turned away. "You can stay here and sulk, newshound, We're going to rescue Cooper Grey and save the world."
Her words burned into me. I thought of the admiration Harvey held me in, of Cooper's soft-spoken politeness and limitless kindness, of the horrors he put himself through for the good of his adopted race. I sighed. I turned around. I couldn't just stand there and watch them fly off to their deaths alone. "Well," I said, reaching down to the remaining jetpack. "You'll have to tell me how this contraption works."
Ramona and Caldwell exchanged a glance. "Squeeze the trigger and point your head in the direction you want to go in," Ramona explained, setting the jetpack on my back. "We'll guide you. When we land, just gun down everything with a swastika on it."
"Sounds simple enough," I said, feeling the weight of the jetpack on my shoulders and waist as Ramona fastened the clasps.
"Yeah," Caldwell agreed. "It always does."
He took one of my arms, Ramona took the other, and then we pulled the triggers of the jetpacks. They roared to life, and we went up into the clear blue sky, straight to the ruins of the Silver One civilization, now fortified by the madmen of the Third Reich.
The wind was tremendous, a constant blast into my face that made my cheeks wiggle and my teeth ache. After we leveled out and soared over the ruins, the howl of the wind settled down to a deafening shriek. I felt my organs shift places and my guts turn into a whirlpool. I wanted to be violently sick, crash and die – and not in that order.
But Ramona and Caldwell kept me on course, and we flew over the high walls of Jangala's ruins. The Nazi sentries standing amidst the crumbling pillars and broken walls cracked off rifle shots after us, but the jetpacks were simply too fast. They even had a couple of heavy machine guns set up behind sandbags, and the gunners struggled to grab up their weapons and bring us down. It would have taken a lightning bolt to catch us, and that the Waffen-SS did not have.
Ramona kept her keen eyes on the stone ruins below us. They were a labyrinth of collapsed chambers, shattered and overturned pillars, leaning spire-like towers and remnants of ape statues, all composed of tan, sun-blasted, vine-encrusted carved stone. But the Silver City was now filling with energy that it had not known for millennia. Crystal cylinders and circles on the walls glistened and crackled with arcane power, like the whole set of ruins had been cast in the bloom of a fallen sun.
"There!" Ramona cried, pointing to a courtyard in the center of the ruins.
It was a wide open air rectangle, with a great stone tower ringed with a stairwell in the center. The place was full of SS soldiers. Nazis stood in a circle around Cooper Grey II, who was lashed with a dozen leather cords to a crystal circle on the ground. Similar crystals glowed white hot on the top of the spire. I spotted Colonel Weltzmann, standing near the spire and watching everything.
"Okay!" Ramona shouted over the scream of the wind. "Here's the plan – me and Sycamore will squirt metal at the Nazis! Caldwell, you bust out Coop! Sound jake?" She did not allow time for an answer, merely angling her jetpack downwards. Caldwell followed, before he released my arm and spun away. Ramona cut the power of her jetpack, then reached over and cut mine. We plummeted the short remainder of the way. Luckily, it was a much smaller distance than it looked. We landed on our feet.
We came up firing, using every ounce of surprise to our advantage. Ramona Roark raised her Mauser pistol and started cracking off shots as she ran to cover behind an overturned ape statue. I fired back with my Colt, as Nazi bullets whizzed around me. Ramona grabbed my shoulder and pulled me to cover. "Come on, newshound!" she cried. "Those ain't pop guns they're using!"
Bullets chipped the ancient stone, sending yellowed fragments clanking to the ground. I ducked down, struggling to remember how to reload the automatic as more gunshots and shouts in German echoed around the ancient ruins. I risked a glance up and saw Caldwell flying over Cooper. He hurled down a throwing knife.
It severed one of the leather straps, and Cooper reared up. He used raw animal strength and his teeth to deal with the rest of his fetters and then all four of his feet touched down on the ground. He looked up at the assembled Nazis and roared. His fearsome cry echoed like Hell's own artillery and the Nazis stared at him in horror.
"The Silver One machines, the Earth Renders, are working!" Weltzmann shouted. "We have but to aim them! Kill the gorilla! We need him no longer! Kill his friends! Kill them all, for Reich and Fuhrer!"
The Germans tried to form a firing line, leveling their rifles and sub-guns at Cooper. He leapt over them, reaching the ruined walls and swinging easily across. Every crevice and vine became a handhold for his hands or prehensile feet, and he easily moved around them. A bullet struck through his chest, another through his shoulder and he ignored them. The rage of a beast drove him, and Cooper Grey could not be stopped.
He leapt behind the Nazis, right into one of their sandbagged machine gun nests. A few seconds later, the gunner and loader were pounded to a pulp. Cooper grabbed the heavy machine gun in both hands, the ammo belt swinging from the firearm's side, and hoisted it up. He opened fire, unloading the entire belt onto the assembled SS soldiers. It has been said that man is the most dangerous animal. Whoever said that has clearly never seen a gorilla with a .30 caliber heavy machine gun.
His bullets tore through the Nazis, reducing men into sprays of blood, meat and gristle. The heavy bullets split off limbs from bodies, ripped men in two, and painted the ancient stones red. Cooper roared during the entirety of the salvo, his savage cry adding to the blare of gunfire. I covered my ears and closed my eyes, until Cooper finally was out of ammo.
Cooper Grey tossed down the heavy machine gun and ran for the spire. I looked up and saw that Colonel Weltzmann was making his way to the top, doubtlessly to aim the complex and alien Earth Render of the ancient Silver Ones, which would bring the free world to its knees. Cooper paused and glanced at me, Caldwell and Ramona. "Stay there!" he cried. "Weltzmann dies at my hand!"
"Don't have to tell me twice," I said, crouching behind the toppled, bullet-ridden statue. Then I heard claws clicking on the ancient stone and looked over my shoulder. Something tan moved across the sunny stones, and I realized what it was. The Climbing Lizarda had arrived to gain a meal from the slaughter.
But even as Jangala Island's residents sought a free meal, Cooper Grey had reached Colonel Wetlzmann. The Nazi officer drew out his long rapider, swinging the swastika-emblazoned hilt in one hand. Cooper followed him up the stairwell, barreling forward on all-fours, while low growls emanated from his throat. Weltzmann's sword cut through the air, slicing at Cooper's forearm as the gorilla struck.
Blood sprayed from the wounds and Cooper howled in pain. He landed a bone-cracking punch on Weltzmann's chest, knocking him back onto the crumbling steps. They were halfway up the spire, the glowing crystals making it seem like they were fighting amidst a tower of living light. "Hah!" Weltzmann cried, coming back to his feet while the point of his sword stayed focused on Cooper. "So this is it? The dashing soldier battling the wild beast. A fitting end for you, Herr Grey."
Cooper responded by springing forward, both arms outstretched to pound Weltzmann into bloody scraps. But Colonel Weltzmann was ready. He stepped back, moving further up the spire, and stabbed forward with his blade. I winced as I saw Weltzmann's sword plunge all the way through Cooper's arm, the bloody point projecting from the other side. It was lodged there, stuck deep in his muscle. Cooper roared and sat on his haunches, staring at the wound.
"Three…." He wheezed, his words barely intelligible.
"Three?" Weltzmann asked. "What are you talking about?"
"Three. Limbs. Left. You fascist scum." Cooper lunged at Weltzmann, moving with such speed that I nearly forgot he was grievously wounded. He grabbed the side of the spire with one hand and smashed Weltzmann's face with both of his feet. Cooper struck with such fury that Weltzmann's face cracked and broke. One of his eyes left its socket, slipping onto his cheek on a ragged thread. But Cooper was not finished. He bit the side of Weltzmann's face, tearing flesh with his long teeth.
Weltzmann screamed and whimpered as Cooper grabbed his shoulder. The Climbing Lizards had rushed into the courtyard and were feasting on the wounded Nazis. Caldwell, Ramona and I had run to the base of the spire to avoid them, but our attention was still captured by the brutal fight above us.
We saw Cooper hurl Weltzmann off of the tower, sending him screaming down to fall into the crowd of devouring lizards. Cooper wrenched out the rapier and tossed it down after him. He waved his good hand at us. "Hurry, by gad!" he cried. "Or you'll be devoured!"
I was almost frightened of Cooper Grey, but I still ran up the long steps and joined the ape adventurer at the top of the tower. We looked down at the courtyard, now overrun with writhing lizards. It was only a matter of time before they scampered up to our location. I sank against the side of the tower, my exhaustion getting the better of me. "We saved the world," I replied. "And now we're going to die."
Cooper squatted on his haunches. "Not here," he replied. "I won't allow it. This savage land shall not be my tomb."
Ramona sighed. "Hate to break it to you, boss, but we not have much of a choice." She pointed down the courtyard. The allosaurs were joining the Climbing Lizards into feeding frenzy, creating an ocean of scales, teeth and claws. "Looks like something's gonna be munching on us soon."
But as she spoke, we heard a mechanical rumble in the clear sky. I looked up and felt my heart soar. A dozen autogyros rumbled through the air, their steel sides painted a dull olive green. They swung down, their rotors a blur of motion. Most of them contained closed cabins with extra cargo space. One of them lowered slowly to the top of the tower, the door slamming open and letting a rope ladder fall down.
A bulldog-faced fellow in a round helmet poked his head out, cigar smoldering in the corner of his mouth. "Hello, Mr. Grey," he said, giving the gorilla a nod. "Chesty Puller, U.S. Marines. Picked up your distress signal on wireless. Figured you could use some help."
"Chesty!" Cooper said, smiling as he motioned us onto the rope ladder. "I haven't seen you since Shanghai!"
"You saved my life then, Mr. Puller. Kept me from the swords of those Boxer revivalist nutballs," Chester agreed. "So now I'm returning the favor. Hurry up and get aboard. We got a battleship out in the ocean. We'll patch you up and get you back to New York."
I took the rope ladder and started climbing, Ramona and Caldwell behind me. Only after we were aboard did Cooper pull himself up with his unwounded arm and his two legs. "Well, Mr. Puller, I must say that your timing is utterly brilliant."
"Anyone else left alive down there?" The marine asked as he helped Cooper inside the autogyro.
Cooper stared down. "No one of consequence," he replied, and slammed the door shut.
It took half a day of flying and sailing before we returned to the Apex Tower in New York. Despite having my face and cuts cleaned and bandaged, and even snatching a few precious hours of sleep, I still felt like I had been eaten, half-digested by some titanic monster and spit out. After our arrival in Manhattan's port, Cooper Grey arranged for a cab to drop us all back at the Apex Tower.
We said goodbye in the lobby, where another cab was waiting to take me back to my own home, were I intended to sleep for a year before beginning work on my latest Adventure Tales masterpiece. As we wearily walked into the lobby, we found Harvey Heller and Anne Prumidge waiting for us.
"Cooper!" Harvey cried, running into the arms of his gorilla father. Cooper wore a collared shirt and large trench coat, Most of his arm was bandaged from the sword strike, with more bandages on his chest, back and shoulders. He seemed full of animal vitality, and his fine manners and well-spoken ways had returned. "You came back! I was frightened, because they said you'd been shot down and were chasing Nazis!" Harvey smiled. "But I knew you'd come back."
"My dear boy," Cooper said, embracing Harvey. "My son." There was nothing but affection between the ape and his adopted son, and yet I could sense the raw beast within Cooper Grey, waiting to break free. Perhaps without Harvey's influence, that beast would truly reign supreme. But Cooper seemed as gentle as a lamb as he set Harvey down, and shook hands with Miss Prumidge. "He behaved himself?" he asked.
"Very well," she agreed. "But he was nervous, and he hardly slept last night." She stroked his furry arm. "It's good to have you back, sir."
"I am glad to return," Cooper said. He turned to face me. "Well, Mr. Sycamore. I am deeply sorry. I have dragged you through Hell, and caused you no end of trouble. I hope you will forgive me."
I shrugged. "I can't say it's been that fun, Mr. Grey, but it will make a crackerjack story." I paused. I looked at Ramona Roark and she smiled back. I still wasn't taking her beauty for granted. I thought about what had happened, and the good I had done. Saving the world? Enough of a legacy for a pulp writer, I think.
"You know," I said. "I know Mr. Pratt, my publisher, would love more firsthand accounts of your adventures. If you ever are investigating some haunted tomb or bringing relief to a warzone, perhaps you could give me a call. I wouldn't mind accompanying you."
"You got more guts than I gave you credit for," Ramona told me. She looked at Caldwell and Cooper. "I think he'd be a nice addition to the team."
"An Apex Inc. official scribe?" Caldwell asked. "Sounds aces. What do you say, Coop?"
Cooper Grey nodded slowly. "Mr. Sycamore, I can think of another writer I'd like more to chronicle my adventures." He held out his hand I shook it. I could sense the strength there, but the softness too. "Welcome aboard."
I had a feeling it would be dangerous and dreadful, but probably worth it. Whether we are beasts with the souls of men, or pulp writers with the souls of poets, we can still work for the good of mankind and the world. I decided that would be a good enough legacy.