J u l y   2 0 0 2

Guest Writer

“Enjoy the tunnels, you bastard!”
by Jess Gulbranson

Just for the record, our yellow-haired, red-sweatshirted, space-traveling and somewhat scruffy hero has been bouncing between dimensions since early last year. Here’s episode 17 ...

el had never been in the basement of a haunted house before, yet here he was being propelled down just such a staircase by a slightly weird old man who claimed to be an off-duty bartender.

In reality, the house was actually a bar and the old man probably just a regular with delusions of grandeur. Mel peered down the stairs while the old man, Sam, ran a stream of commentary in his ear.

"... and was a bordello turn of the century; indeed, a bad place to be was Portland, could get shanghaied no problem after dark ..."

Is ‘shanghaied’ even a word? thought Mel, though it reminded him why he was where he was.

An hour before, Mel had stepped off the trolley and into the White Eagle – a cozy little place, all dark and quiet. The bartender, a bespectacled girl who looked about 12, was on the phone so Mel sat at a table for a moment. He watched as Sam – still an anonymous old man then – hopped up to the bar and poured two pints of a dark beer, which he slapped on Mel's table before sitting down.

"Umm ..." Mel was a bit flummoxed.

"Messerschmidt! Messerschmidt! It's Sam!" the old man said, with a vaguely European drawl. He was paunchy, with long salt-and-pepper hair and glasses.

"Luftwaffe? Blitzkrieg? What the hell are you talking about?"

The man leaned in. "I see you have not changed these 60 years, in face. But now you favor red, not green." Mel started to catch on as the man stared at his crimson hoody. "Do you remember Malmedy, Messer Schmidt? Do you recall the blood, the grinding, the oil? You spilled blood and oil and called me to serve you after the war. You were Colonel before Malmedy."

"It's ... it has been a long time. I remember so little." Mel affected a dignified tone to draw the man out.

"Then I will fill you in!"

Which Sam did for the next hour. The man seemed to think that he served under Mel in World War II, with Germany. "Messer Schmidt," Mel realized, was actually Mister Smith. The green-shirted jackass had been busy with the zapper, apparently, and doing some horrible things, if Mel remembered correctly what happened at the Battle of Malmedy.

It seemed that the zapper could fudge with time as well as space.

Mel had only intended to have a quick beer, but the bar was so pleasant and Sam's weird ramblings so interesting that he wasn't leaving any time soon. Sam's bartender status, whether real or imagined, seemed to earn him free beer, which he shared with Mel. At last, the conversation left Smith and Sam's exploits in Antarctica and Chile, and turned to ghosts and the Shanghai Tunnels.

"I am an expert in the history of the White Eagle ghosts," Sam said, "and an expert in the tunnels. There is an entrance underneath this building. Many ghost hunters come and I lead them around. They talk big, but most are fat girls or Dungeons and Dragons teens." He shrugged.

Mel had planned to go next door and visit Anne's friend, Dr. Maniacus, who apparently had access to the Shanghai Tunnels under Portland. But this weird guy was a windfall – providing beer and information without reminding Mel of his recent heartbreak.

"How would you get into the tunnels from here, Sam?"

"I will show you, Messer Schmidt!" He jumped up from the table and all but dragged Mel out of his chair. They made their way past the other tables to a back hallway. At the end, Sam opened a door, revealing the dark stairs. Mel started down the steps, emboldened by his several pints.

He stopped part way down, because Sam wasn't following him. The old man was silhouetted at the top of the stairs, unmoving.

"Here, catch." Sam tossed a satchel at Mel, who caught it deftly. "Enjoy the tunnels, you bastard!" Then Sam slammed the door, leaving Mel to look back up the staircase in complete darkness. When his eyes adjusted, he was in for a shock: The staircase went up, but terminated not in a door but a ceiling. It was as if the staircase had been built over, but how ...

Mel walked carefully to the bottom of the stairs. He felt around in the satchel and was rewarded with a metal cigarette lighter. By its flame he saw where he was, which was a dusty corridor lined with doors. Looking in the satchel, Mel found some interesting things.

There was a nickel-plated flashlight, which worked. He swapped its light for the lighter's. After that was a large sheaf of yellowed papers wrapped with a rubber band, which he put aside for later perusal. Next was a pistol, an old German Luger in excellent shape. He left it in the satchel, though the next item was something he would keep with him: a seven-inch rubber handle. As he flicked it with a sharp wrist motion, two feet of steel shot from the end. It was a police baton, for cracking skulls. Mel retracted it by twisting the handle, and collected himself.

"I've started off with worse," he said aloud, and proceeded with the only thing he could do in the situation. He started trying doors. The first three were locked and unused, to tell by the dust, but the fourth was clean. Huge black letters, hand-painted, read POPE.

Black Pope? he thought, then entered.

It was an office, though fitted out in a style a hundred years old. The two occupants could have been refugees from a pirate movie. The nearest, in a red bandanna, challenged Mel.

"Whot's you wantin', then?"

"I want to see the Black Pope." He was out on a limb with that one, but it seemed to work most of the time.

"Lissen ta this one, Bert," said the pirate to his companion, "him whot want ter see the Black Pope. GET HIM!"

They rushed with surprising quickness, but Mel was ready. A quick backhand motion brought the baton to full length, and its forward snap took the pirate in the temple, dropping him instantly – a move that would have been called police brutality in most countries. But Mel was no cop. Besides, he thought, when you’re shanghaied, all bets are off.

Bert, the other pirate, had stopped his charge and fell into a corner. Mel advanced, but a door he hadn't noticed before suddenly opened by itself. Bert's jaw dropped, but he managed before he fainted to utter one thing in a squeaky voice: "His Excellence, The Secretary General of the Society of Jesus, will see you now."

E-mail Jess at j_gulbranson@hotmail.com, and visit our archives.

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