Chapter 11: The Lost Gold of Itapa
Colonel Tanaka went back to his hotel room white with rage. These two stupid boys had ruined everything. Without their muscle, how could he beat Solomon into telling him where the gold was hidden? How could he move the gold once he found it? All those years of patient searching and waiting now seemed to come to nothing.
He could, I suppose, have gone to the police station and tried to have the two boys released into his care. But there would be awkward questions to answer. What was Luey doing wearing a dress? Just why were they pretending to be a honeymoon couple? And what was Colonel Tanaka planning to do with these two young men? No. He would leave them to the tender mercies of the Itapa Police Force. At least he believed that the two goons knew little of his purpose in Itapa and would probably remain silent until he was safely away.
Colonel Tanaka paced up and down his room, ignoring the beautiful view across the harbour. He had brought with him from Japan the uniform he had worn as a Colonel in the Japanese Imperial Army. Old and stained it had nevertheless been kept always cleaned and ironed and ready; Colonel Tanaka had planned to wear it tonight to celebrate his great victory. It now looked forlorn on the bed in his hotel room. Beside the uniform was the beautiful curved sword which had belonged to his great grandfather. He had carried the sword through the war and used it, too, when he took the gold so many years ago.
As he looked out across the harbour to the Saucy Nancy riding so beautifully in the bay a terrible plan formed in his mind. If he could not use the muscle of Luey and Guey to find and move the gold he would use the captives themselves. And if that were not possible, he would kill them all anyway. If he couldn’t have the gold, no one would have it. He picked up the sword and felt the blade. It was sharp and keen and ready to use.
Now the Colonel did as Guey and Luey had done: he turned for comfort and encouragement to the sake bottle. The Colonel had brought a bottle of the finest sake from Japan with him; he had planned to drink it that night after the gold had been recovered. He needed it now, however, and he warmed the expensive bottle in the hand basin of his bathroom and then opened it. The liquid was soft and powerful; he began to feel better after only two small glasses. He must wait for darkness and for late evening. He had waited patiently for fifty years; he could wait out the evening now.
In her hotel room on the floor below, Tracey Scribble and Rodney Flash were doing their very best to get a story out of Tiny. I think that he might have answered any of their questions if Imoteph and Kiwi Bill hadn’t been there to protect him. These two shipmates were more worldly wise than their friend. They had been shearers together in New Zealand before coming to Australia where Kiwi Bill had belonged to a famous motor cycle gang. In Australia, they had worked on removal vans together until they had an unfortunate experience with a tow truck operator and they had decided at rather short notice to join Captain Blackheart’s crew. Both the boys loved their life on the sea and both of them loved the girls as great friends. They didn’t want to do anything [or let Tiny say anything] that might injure the girls’ chances of collecting their treasure.
None of the sailors was really concerned when Tracey and Rodney told them that they had been to the Saucy Nancy and no one was there. But Rodney’s photographs of the boat and Saint Peter’s in the distance clearly showed the dinghy beached on the muddy shore. That must be where they were, they reasoned. Imoteph was uneasy. No true sailor would let his boat run aground like that. Kiwi Bill and Tiny noticed it too and Tracey picked up immediately on their fear. She offered to drive them all back to the church. She was hoping to find the girls with the treasure. What a photograph that would make!
It was a tight fit in Tracey’s rented car even though the drive around the bay only took twenty minutes. Tiny, of course, had to sit in the front and Rodney’s big camera bag took up a lot of the room in the back seat. At the church, there was nothing to be seen and no sign of the girls or Captain Blackheart. Father Enoch was putting out the prayer books for Evensong but he was pleased to talk briefly to the little group. Yes, there had been two little girls and a captain in the morning congregation. In fact, he was almost certain that they disappeared after morning tea – at the same time that a pair of badly dressed Japanese tourists had been looking around the church.
The three crew members from the Saucy Nancy were a little more concerned now. They knew that the Captain was frightened that a Japanese soldier from the war would discover what they were doing. Two tourists were surely a different matter. They waited with the dinghy until darkness fell. Evensong came and went and still no sign of the Captain and the girls. Everyone now was getting more anxious.
The only commitment they had to hang on to was the rendezvous time of 11 pm on the docks when Katie or Emily would come to collect the crew in the dinghy – now pulled up on to the beach. It seemed increasingly unlikely that that would happen now – and the girls were never late for anything! With a heavy heart, the five of them returned to the hotel to wait. Something would turn up, they hoped, at 11 o’clock. Tiny was all for going to have a drink but Imoteph and Kiwi Bill were much more cautious. They took their friend back to town but only to collect the crew by ones and twos from the waterfront pubs. No one must be late. Tracey and Rodney would meet them at the docks at 11 pm as well.
Now we must go back to the container and the four friends waiting fearfully for the return of the Japanese. I think everyone except Solomon dozed for some time; it was so hard in that close, hot box to stay awake and alert. Finally they heard the sound of the van, the slamming of a car door [but only one, Captain Blackheart noted] and then the scraping of the metal door at the end of the container. The light was turned on and there was Colonel Tanaka dressed in his uniform, his sword at his side and his face livid with anger. Solomon knew that face; it had haunted his dreams for many years. The four friends turned their backs to the container wall, anxious to hide the knots they had substituted for the ones tied by Guey and Luey.
“Your time has come,” the Colonel said simply. He wrenched the gag from the black man’s mouth. “Solomon, tell me where the gold is hidden and even now I will spare you and all your friends. If you hesitate or lie to me, I will have no mercy.” Here, Colonel Tanaka took his great sword out of its scabbard and held it threateningly over each of them in turn.
“I know all about your mercy, Colonel Tanaka,” said Solomon simply. “I saw you burn my church and kill the good priest who loved and helped us all. I saw you kill your own young soldiers so that no one else alive would know where the gold is hidden. It is not worth another life; you are welcome to all the joy it may bring you. I will take you to the gold. It is hidden on the other side of the bay but I will not show you where until I know the girls are safely gone. Where are your fat boys with the guns – the ones who broke my glasses and beat me? You plan to kill them, I suppose, once they have lifted the gold for you. But they should be here now. You will need all their power to persuade me while the girls are still your prisoners.”
Colonel Tanaka’s face lit up in a terrible sneer. “You will tell me before the night is out – but not on your terms. I wonder how you will feel, Solomon, watching these little girls suffer for you.” Colonel Tanaka raised his sword and held it over Emily. It was, of course, the worst thing that he could have done. As soon as the Colonel appeared alone, every one of the four friends knew that the situation had changed greatly. They had made their plan to meet again at Saint Peter’s if they could escape and that is what they would do. But if any of them were to get away, they would have to move quickly. Katie was out of the ropes holding her hands first and as soon as the Colonel raised his sword to Emily, she struggled free. Captain Blackheart, his heart pumping in anger raised his feet as hard and as fast as he could and knocked the sword out of the Colonel’s hands. It gave them just enough time as the Colonel went for his gun. Katie’s hands were free and she seized the first thing that she could reach – a big coconut – and heaved it as hard as she could. The gun went off, the bullet echoing around the box dangerously. Captain Blackheart was free now but instead of attacking Colonel Tanaka, he was bustling the girls towards the door of the container.
“Run,” he shouted! “Run now!”
The girls wanted to stay and fight but the Captain was pushing them even as he shouted and in a moment they were tumbling out into the cool evening air and running as fast as they could in the darkness. They heard another shot. The wharf was velvety black away from the orange glow of the one light over the container. They could feel the splintery planks of the wharf below their feet and then suddenly without warning the wharf was gone and they were falling into inky blackness. With a mighty splash, they hit the warm water. In the water, they found one another and laughed and cried at the same time. They were alive and away from the horrible container box but their friends were still in the most real danger. Above them they heard the container door slam, some shouting and then a van starting up. What was happening? They could see another light at the dock steps some distance away and the two girls swam towards it. They tried not to think of sharks or stingrays or broken bottles or any of the other things that they knew lurked under the wharves. Afterwards, Emily said that the thing she was most angry about at that moment was that she had worn her best dress to mass that morning and now it would be soiled in the sea water. It was just another thing that Colonel Tanaka had ruined! At last they came to the dock and struggled up the steps wet and bedraggled. All of a sudden, there was a flash of light, then another and another! And there on the steps were the crew of the Saucy Nancy.
“Well, Katie and Emily,” said Tiny running forward to hug them, “you’re right on time!” Rodney Flash made sure that he captured this precious moment for the readers of the Cairns Post. Tiny was right; the girls were never late!
It took only moments for the girls to tell their story. They could not say for certain whether the Captain were alive or dead but the girls retold again and again that night how Captain Blackheart had sacrificed himself for their escape. Whatever happened, they had to get to Saint Peter’s as soon as possible. The girls lead the crew back to the container on the wharf; they were frightened when they pushed aside the door at what they might find there but the container was empty and far as they could see in the poor light, there was nothing there except the ropes that the girls had escaped from and the coconuts piled into the back of the box.
What to do now? There were fifteen members of the crew plus Rodney and Tracey. They had the hire car, of course but that would only carry four or five of them and neither of the journalists was keen to face Colonel Tanaka with only a camera for protection. Now most ordinary people might have thought of calling the police – or even whistling up a taxi- but the crew of the Saucy Nancy were made of sterner stuff than that. They were sailors and could put to sea in any kind of boat and manage it well enough. And they were pirates and the harbour was full of beautiful boats. Nothing could be simpler.
This is where Kiwi Bill made himself the hero of the night. There were several beautiful motor cruisers in the harbour; very near them was an elegant ocean going motor boat that could comfortably hold them all. The owners were enjoying a candle lit dinner in the Harbour View Restaurant at the Sofitel and would be very concerned on their return to find that their boat was gone. As Kiwi Bill said, however, this was a matter of life or death. Emily volunteered to swim to it and take it in hand. She was already wet; the harbour water wasn’t cold and she was prepared to do anything that would speed up the rescue of her friends.
At this point, Tracey Scribble and Rodney Flash wondered what they should do. They were loving being part of the news instead of just reporting it but what was happening at this moment looked very much like stealing. If they went along with the pirates, would they be guilty of stealing too? In the confusion of the wharf as they waited for Emily to swim the boat in, Tracey stepped back into the shadows and used her mobile telephone to call her editor in Cairns. It was very late at night and he wasn’t very pleased to be woken up but the story she quickly told was electrifying. He gave a very simple instruction to the two journalists: stay with the action at all costs. Rodney should take as many photographs as he could. Steer clear of bullets and knives. And, the editor promised, he would call the police in Itapa and warn them to go as quickly as they could to Saint Peter’s.
Once the crew was on board, Kiwi Bill used all the skills he had learned in the motor cycle gang to start the engine without a key. Soon it was throbbing with life and while Colonel Tanaka had a good start on them, they were soon churning through the still harbour waters for the other side of the bay. They stopped briefly at the Saucy Nancy; Katie climbed the rope ladder on the side of the boat and quickly found the tin tub with all the boys’ weapons that Emily had collected before they had been allowed to go ashore. They would come in handy tonight. They set off again; it was a powerful boat and they covered the mile or so of the bay very quickly. Katie gave out the weapons she had collected in the tub and appointed Tiny, Imoteph and Kiwi Bill as the commanders of the attack. They would lead the pirates against Colonel Tanaka; the girls would find Solomon and Captain Blackheart. They felt the speedboat touch the sandy bottom of the bay and then run aground. This was it! In a moment, they would be over the side and need all their courage but, Katie and Emily hoped, their friends would be rescued. You can imagine their horror then to see the shape of Saint Peter’s Church suddenly outlined against the hills behind the bay by the red and orange flames of a fire that leapt into the air.
When Colonel Tanaka arrived at Saint Peter’s he hauled Solomon and the Captain out of the car and into the church hall. This had been the church once – built on the ruins of the mission church which the Japanese had burned when they arrived in Itapa. In some ways, Katie always said afterwards, it was a nicer building. There were no walls. The roof was made of palm thatch and the floor was made of crushed coral. When the smart new church had been built beside it, most of the fittings had been moved there. Only the old altar, made of stones and fixed to the floor, remained in place. There was also a heavy wooden cross built into the east wall. Colonel Tanaka drove his two captives into the hall now and made Captain Blackheart lie on the floor. Solomon was sent to find a light of some kind [there was no electricity in the hall, of course] and he returned with a kerosene lamp. Colonel Tanaka had brought the rope from the container that had tied up Katie and Emily and with this he now tied Captain Blackheart and Solomon to the cross. He stood back to look at the two brave men without any shame or pity.
Colonel Tanaka’s mood had altogether changed. Earlier in the day, he believed the treasure was in his grasp. He had been boastful and sarcastic and bullying. Now he seemed to know deep down that no matter who he beat or threatened or killed, the treasure would not be his. He was exhausted and bitterly angry and was now determined that Solomon and Captain Blackheart at least would die. That way, no one would have the lost treasure of Itapa if he couldn’t have it.
As he turned the sword in his hand, he thought for a moment of the night fifty years earlier when he had unloaded the four boxes of gold from the submarine. He thought of the young, exhausted soldiers and men from this mission who had struggled with the gold to the mouth of the cave. He remembered their frightened faces as they dug into the sand – and their look of terror as he and his sergeant had shot them when the work was done. He remembered too the surprise on the face of the young sergeant when Colonel Tanaka had aimed the gun at him when everyone else had been killed. The mission, the Colonel thought, would be a good place to end his dreams of wealth and power.
He drew his samurai sword and felt the blade. To his great anger, Solomon and Captain Blackheart did not plead or even look frightened – although the Captain was obviously struggling with the ropes that bound his hands and feet. The Colonel picked up the kerosene lamp and smashed it on the old altar; immediately a sheet of fire leapt into the thatched roof. The fire would hide his murderous work, he hoped. Let the local police make what they could of the burned bodies of a foolish deacon and a rascally pirate. The Colonel raised his sword with both hands to swing at Solomon but before he could strike, the Captain had lunged and hit low. His hands were freed at last and the sword, when it fell, glanced against the stone altar with a shower of sparks.
Captain Blackheart had freed himself; now he went to work to free Solomon. Before he could do that, however, the burning palm branches began to rain down on them. There were police sirens, the screech of brakes, slamming doors and the repeated flash of a camera. And suddenly the hall was filled with noisy pirates and cheering swords and cutlasses. Solomon was cut down from the cross and hurried out into the cool evening air. The girls had flung themselves at Captain Blackheart and he had lifted both of them into his arms and hugged them for just a moment before diving out the side of the building just as the roof came crashing down in a ball of fire.
It took some little time before everyone was accounted for safe and well. Father Enoch had come running in his pyjamas and the police chief who took charge of the scene had everyone come into the church and be seated. Solomon made them all welcome; this was, after all, his home – and these were his friends. Captain Blackheart asked Emily to do the roll call for the crew of the Sauncy Nancy and everyone was quickly accounted for. No one gave a heartier “Aye Aye Sir!” than Imoteph, Kiwi Bill and Tiny who were – everyone agreed- the heroes of the night. Rodney Flash used up all the battery on his camera taking photographs and when Tracey Scribble had hugged and kissed Tiny one last time she remembered to call her editor in Cairns to tell him that all was well and that he should hold the front page of next morning’s edition of the Post. There was only one disappointment. In all the confusion of the rescue, Colonel Tanaka seemed to have escaped. And the dinghy was mysteriously missing from the beach.
Some of the sailors were all for heading back to Itapa to celebrate the rescue of their Captain and the two cabin boys but Captain Blackheart was adamant. He wanted his crew back on board the Saucy Nancy as soon as possible – away from the temptations of town, the dangers of the Japanese and the prying questions of journalists. The Captain also thought that it would be a good idea to return the beautiful speed boat before someone reported it to the Chief of Police – who was standing right beside him at that moment and might ask some difficult questions. Tracy and Rodney left to file their story from the Sofitel Business Centre. The police, satisfied that there was nothing now that couldn’t wait until morning, did the same. Father Enoch too went back to bed. The four friends stood together on the beach in the darkness for a long time looking across the bay to the lights of the town. When the crew had gone and the flames of the burning roof were just glowing embers, the girls tried to think of some words that they could say to tell Solomon how brave and good he was – and how hard it had been on the wharf for them to run away when Colonel Tanaka returned. When they tried to begin, Solomon hushed them. He took their hands. Captain Blackheart put his hands on the girls’ shoulders, then he hugged the old deacon. There was nothing to say. Their spirits rose when they saw the lights go on as the crew arrived back onboard the Saucy Nancy. Now the boys were safe, Captain Blackheart could relax. The first tints of dawn were showing on the top of the great volcano above the town. Then the sky turned grey, then pink and fiery red. Solomon suggested a cup of tea and even though they were all exhausted and wanting their hammocks, he took them to the tiny room beside the church which was his home and found the kettle.
When they had their tea, the four friends walked back on to the lawn under the rain trees and looked back to the Saucy Nancy in the harbour. The view across the bay was spectacularly beautiful now; I think that only sailors ever see the morning in all the beauty it can possess. They were silent for some time until Solomon broke the moment with words that brought them all crashing back to reality. “And now, Katie and Emily, I think that it is time that you got what you came here for – the gold that Old Riley wanted you to have.”
“Are you sure you want to tell us?” said Emily. “Old Riley sent us here to find you- and we did that. We solved the mystery of the scrimshaw and we defeated Colonel Tanaka and his two stooges. Even if we go home with nothing, I think that this has been the most exciting voyage of my life.”
“Old Riley wanted you to have the gold,” said Solomon. “When I realised that he had entrusted such a great treasure to two little girls I thought he must be mistaken. But now I think that he couldn’t have given the treasure to anyone more decent and deserving. What you do with the gold is your decision, of course, but you have won it fair and square. And here it is.”
He took the girls by the hand and led them back into the smouldering church hall. At the old stone altar, he knelt and pulled away the centre stone on the face. Like the altar in the new church it had been decorated with the keys of Saint Peter and the P sign, picked out in tiny white shells. It took all Solomon’s strength to move the stone. There behind it, filling the whole of the altar cavity, were the ammunition boxes. The lost gold of Itapa had been kept safe in the church for all these years.
What a morning that was! The girls arrived back on the Saucy Nancy to find a very hungry crew all wanting their breakfast. Feeding the hungry pirates was the last thing the girls wanted to do at that moment and Captain Blackheart knew just what to do. Solomon had rowed the friends back in the mission boat and although it was a very tight squeeze, the whole crew, Father Enoch and Solomon now jammed into the Southern Cross and set off for the wharf at Itapa. Colonel Blackheart was going to treat everyone to the buffet breakfast at the Sofitel. The crew mercilessly encouraged Tiny to throw another Japanese tourist in the swimming pool! They were all a little surprised [but pleased] to find the ship’s dinghy tied up at the dock. Only Katie, Emily and the captain, of course, realised the significance of their find. The girls sat with Solomon and the Captain in a window looking beyond the pool to the harbour. They had a fine view of the Bento Maru heading out through the lagoon towards Yokohama three weeks away.
At lunch time, Katie and Emily called a special news conference at Saint Peter’s Church which was attended only by journalists from the Itapa Independent and Miss Tracey Scribble from the Cairns Post to announce that the lost treasure of Itapa had been found. There on a special table in the sanctuary were the four boxes, one of them opened to reveal ten bars of gold. A special security detachment from the Saucy Nancy [Tiny and Imoteph] stood guard. The pictures which Rodney Flash took and which were quickly sent around the world showed Katie and Emily formally presenting the gold to the local manager of the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank. In a prepared statement, the girls stated that they had inherited the gold but that it should really be returned to the banks in Singapore and Malaya from which the Japanese had looted it. There was just a little sadness in the girls’ voices as they made the announcement [and some photographs of the news conference show Tiny and Imoteph positively weeping at this point!] but they explained that so many people had died in taking and keeping the gold that only a really wise and generous action at this moment could stop the sadness that it had brought. Finally, both the girls remembered their dear old friend, Riley Mc Sporran, who had done so much to keep the gold safe.
Captain Blackheart was as disappointed at losing the treasure as any of the crew but he knew that this was the only way. Once Tracey Scribble and Rodney Flash came on the scene there was no way the gold could be quietly taken home to Cairns. Pirates are very private people and Captain Blackheart would have weighed anchor that afternoon and gone on the next tide but that was equally impossible. The jets arriving at the airport now brought television crews and bank executives, scientists and Interpol officers. Every one of them wanted to hear the story from the girls, to inspect the gold and its hiding place and to speak to anyone associated with the story. The story was on television all over the world.
There was almost a mutiny on board the Saucy Nancy when Captain Blackheart announced that everyone was to be confined to the ship until they could sail back to Cairns; it was Katie who suggested that the problem of keeping the crew away from the media could be accomplished just as well by taking them all to the Island Daze luxury resort on the other side of the island. This was a great place with sparkling beaches, good food – and no television or mobile phone reception. On the Monday evening, the ship “went to bed” as usual but as soon as all was quiet, Katie whistled the crew out to lift the anchor and sail most of the night to the resort. The Saucy Nancy was back at anchor in the bay before daylight and not even Miss Scribble guessed what had happened. The crew enjoyed the best shore leave in their lives although when Emily went to settle the bar bill at the end of the week it took every dollar of the cash that Old Riley had left them in his sea chest.
There were only two people to whom the girls told the whole story. They needed to tell the Chief of Police in Itapa all that happened; after all, Luey and Guey were still in custody in the Itapa lock-up facing serious firearm charges. There was also the problem of Colonel Tanaka who was still at large – and in great danger, Katie pointed out, of being found not by the police but by Tiny and the crew. Word of what he had done to the girls and their captain made the boys determined to have the Colonel keel hauled or walk the plank. The Police Chief was a very wise man and promised to handle the whole matter with great tact.
The other person with whom the girls shared their story was Bishop Arthur – an old priest much the same age as Solomon who came from Rabaul to see the damage done to Saint Peter’s. He came for tea on the Saucy Nancy the next Thursday and the girls wondered at the blackness of his happy face and the whiteness of his cassock. He listened for a long time and then thanked the girls and his saintly deacon for their simple goodness. I don’t think that Captain Blackheart had ever been so proud of the two cabin boys as he was at this quiet moment.
The visit to Itapa finished with a special church service at Saint Peter’s the next Sunday morning. The crew had come back late that night from the resort and as Captain Blackheart so wisely observed, these were boys who needed all the church services they could get. Bishop Arthur stayed on to celebrate mass, Captain Blackheart was asked to read the Old Testament Lesson and the girls carried the candles in at the head of the procession. The wise bishop preached a nice short sermon, the ladies in the drum orchestra made a marvellous noise and the only awkward moment came when Kiwi Bill was asked to take up the collection. [Solomon wisely helped return the money to the collection plate before anyone much noticed what had happened.] The press of the world had been camping in Itapa for the week and the girls were beamed around the world coming out of church. When the morning tea was served, the CEO of the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank who had come from Singapore for the occasion announced that the bank was paying a reward of a million dollars for the return of the lost gold. The girls immediately announced that half of this would be donated to the Parish Church of Saint Peter in Itapa. The other half would be divided equally among the crew of the Saucy Nancy – Captain Blackheart insisting only that the bar tab at the Island Daze Resort be settled from the reward before anyone received any of the prize money. That way Katie and Emily got to keep the contents of the tartan pencil case that had come to them from Old Riley’s sea chest.
There were other happy consequences of the story making news all over the world. One journalist did his own digging and wrote a thoughtful piece about the bravery of the Coast Watchers like Old Riley who had stayed behind Japanese lines during the war to report on the movement of Japanese naval vessels and planes. Why, he wanted to know, were Australians honoured for their courage but men like Solomon had been overlooked? The Australian Prime Minister promised to look at this personally and many months after the excitement had otherwise died down, Solomon was invited to the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby to receive the thanks of the Australian people and the same fine set of medals that Old Riley had received but had been too shy to wear.
The day soon came for the girls to leave. They went home without the gold but with treasure enough in many other ways. The crew had their reward as well – and they could put it all safely into the bank instead of having to hide it in a sea chest. The Saucy Nancy slipped anchor at high tide very early one beautiful morning and with Emily at the wheel, they headed off across the pale blue waters of the reef towards the dark green of the open seas. In three weeks, they would be home.
Perhaps you are wondering what happened to Guzenko Sushi and Lukihiro Sashimi? They had been terrified by their time in the lock up and they were really very lucky that they had been captured before they had done anything really criminal – although beating Solomon and breaking his glasses was surely bad enough, Emily complained. The police were happy to charge the boys with firearms offences but as Captain Blackheart noted ruefully it seemed wrong to punish Guey and Luey while Colonel Tanaka was not in prison. It was finally decided that the boys would be allowed to return to Japan if they volunteered for service in the Japanese navy. “Time at sea” was Captain Blackheart’s solution to most problems with unruly boys and you can imagine how astonished the girls were to find [some six months later] two trim young men with good haircuts and clear complexions calling on them at the Saucy Nancy at their berth in Cairns. The boys were wearing the formal white uniform of the Japanese navy; their ship, the Sukiyaki Maru, was visiting the city as part of the Cairns Sister City program. How proud the girls were to be seen on the Esplanade on the arm of these two stylish young men!
The girls never did hear anything more about Colonel Tanaka but two weeks after they had left Itapa there was an extraordinary incident at the Colonel’s zipper factory in Tokyo, It seems that a container box had been delivered from the docks at Yokohama to the warehouse floor during the night. It remained in the car park for a day or so before someone came to investigate the knocking that occasionally came from it.
When the container was opened, there was the boss of the factory – although almost unrecognizable to all but his closest associates. In place of the snappy suit he always wore, he now wore a stained and tattered army uniform. He had a straggly beard, his hair had turned quite white and he looked haggard and gaunt. The floor of the container was littered with waste and husks and shells. He had been opening coconuts, apparently, with an ancient samurai sword – now much dented by misuse.
Colonel Tanaka fell into the sunlight with an angry sob. His secretary came from the office and escorted him home. Once he was showered and shaved he recovered a tiny spark of his old self but it was obvious that he had suffered some terrible trauma. The fact is that when he escaped from the beach in front of Saint Peter’s on the night of the fire he had been terrified of being found out. He could not return to his hotel room; it would be the first place the police would look. In the early dawn he went to the container box and locked himself in. He would think of something to do after he had had a snooze. At least he would be safe from the terrible crew of the Saucy Nancy even though he felt that the box was a kind of tomb. He woke later that morning just as a crane hoisted him into the air and into the hold of the Bento Maru. He was on his way to Yokohama and no amount of swearing, threats or banging could alert the crew of the Japanese boat that he was trapped inside.
The Colonel’s poor wife hardly recognized the bullying villain who was her husband in the broken hearted soul who came back to her from Itapa. He slept most of the day and sat bleakly at his computer reading the thousands of Google entries on the Itapa treasure that had appeared in the last few weeks – almost all of them, of course, were poorly disguised versions of the original stories written by Tracey Scribble. Colonel Tanaka raged for a moment after each of these stories but then lapsed into the most complete silence and apathy. He became a great embarrassment at his Rotary Club, insisting on telling any member who might listen that he had almost secured a great fortune and that it had been snatched from him by two little girls. He told the story so often that no one would sit with him at meetings and no one was sorry when he stopped coming to meetings altogether.
He was a broken man. A month after his return, his wife found that she couldn’t manage him at all. He kept trying to book holidays in Itapa on the internet and when she closed down his service subscription, the Colonel raged and threatened her with his dented samurai sword. She was very fortunate to find a place for the Colonel in the Dementia Ward of the Old Soldier’s Nursing Home in Kobe – a very inconvenient distance from their apartment in Tokyo, to be sure, but Mrs Tanaka found that her life was much quieter and more comfortable now that the Colonel was a long way from her.
In the Dementia Ward, the Colonel told the same long, rambling story to all the nurses and the other poor patients in the ward. He knew where a great treasure was; all he needed was to get out of the hospital and go to New Guinea. The staff were very kind but when nothing else worked to calm the old soldier the doctors increased the dosage on the Colonel’s medicine and everyone had some peace at last.
Back on the Saucy Nancy, the girls returned to the happy life they had lead before all the excitement of Old Riley’s sea chest. They donated the photographs and the lovely scrimshaw blocks in their frame to the War Memorial in Canberra where they went on display along with the best photographs of the Itapa rescue by Rodney Flash. In their tiny cabin on board ship, they arranged their scrimshaw pieces on the shelf and never tired of admiring the beautiful work of their old shipmate. I think he would have been very proud of the legacy he gave to these two brave little girls.