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The Year of the Tiger

By johnksutherland All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Adventure

Blurb

The tale begins in the year 1497, when Jeffrey Thurston is murdered by Ivy, his wife of only a few hours. Jeffrey lays a terrible curse upon her and Cedric Thurston, Jeffrey’s brother. The story moves forward to China in 1944, and the Japanese occupation. A Japanese officer is beheaded by an English doctor, to protect his own daughter. One of three steps in lifting that curse has been accomplished. One other, notices: Cedric Thurston, long dead, but now attentive to what is happening. Two more steps to go. They happen in a girls’ school in northern England after a blind male teacher, blinded in that war, begins to teach. The impossible becomes possible only when he and he alone, walked through the door into that particular school. He must not be allowed to leave until all of the requirements have been fulfilled. A frustrated entity and a determined young woman eventually overwhelm his reservations about what is required. These individual threads slowly and inevitably intertwine and lead into a tale of mystery, outspoken honesty, love, and adventure as the curse is lifted, and Cedric—a man dead for more than 400 years—is finally put to rest.

1944. China.

The increasingly raucous sounds of birds, celebrating the dawning light of a new day, greeted the first officer to leave the hut where he and his fellow officers were housed. That hut, one of the smaller ones of the eight, was protectively located with the others within the barbed wire compound. Colonel Osaka and his immediate staff occupied the smallest. The largest was the kitchen and mess hall, with others to house the soldiers, food supplies, the munitions, truck parts, and repair facilities. One other stood apart. It housed the Chinese women rounded up from time to time and then released after a week or so, before a new group might be captured as ‘comfort women’, to keep the soldiers happy under the miserable conditions they faced.

The compound had a guard tower at each corner. A small generator provided power for the lighting. If they had need of searchlights, they started the trucks and aimed the headlights through the fence, while the machine guns in the back of the vehicles and in the guard towers could hold any assault at bay. The fence could be easily repaired. The Chinese, who outnumbered them a thousand to one, had learned from bitter experience to leave the compound and the Japanese soldiers alone. They had seen what the aftermath had been when they had sought to attack that compound to seek revenge. They learned that any act of retribution against any soldier of the Imperial Japanese army for their rapacious activities on their women, would merit ten dead for each Japanese injury. The bodies of the dead from those attacks, along with some of the women they had hoped to rescue, had been hung on that fence to serve as a reminder that the Japanese invaders and occupiers valued only their own lives.

The officer breathed deeply of the warm morning air and looked out over the compound as he straightened and adjusted his well-worn uniform. He was constantly tired, as they all were, but he was still attentive to what was around him. His eyes took in what he could see in the slowly increasing light of morning with the mist already beginning to dissipate. It would be another uncomfortably hot day. He could hear the sounds from the kitchen and could smell breakfast. Then his eyes took in what was actually much closer to him, beside him even, on the Verandah. He swore involuntarily, feeling a cold hand reach into his uniform and beyond it to squeeze both his heart and his lungs for a second.

He was used to the sight of death, and did not flinch at it, but this was unusual and disturbing. He did not understand it at first, but his eyes were not deceiving him. One could not mistake the headless body for what it was, sitting in a chair at the back of the verandah. There had been a considerable spray of arterial blood up the wall behind him, and his severed head had rolled to near the edge. How no one had been disturbed the night before at the sound of that, falling and rolling, or at the sound of conflict, was puzzling. There had been a strong wind most of the night, and heavy rain, and they had all been dog-tired. There had also been the disturbing sounds of large animals fighting in a life and death struggle just beyond the compound, further disturbing their rest and keeping the guards on their toes with their attention constantly focused outside of the fence. No shots had been fired to drive those animals off to disturb anyone’s rest as they got little-enough sleep as it was in the relative safety of their self-made prison.

The head had rolled to the edge of the verandah and was now staring up at him. He recognized him. Ichiro Akiyama, first and only son of the Akiyama family. The headless man cannot have expected what had happened to him, as his own sword was still sheathed, and he was sitting almost as relaxed as he would have been in life, with his boots caked with still wet mud and arranged tidily beside him. His woolen puttees, neatly rolled and sitting in the top of them, were now splashed with blood. His uniform—apart from the blood—showed signs of the excesses of the previous evening and was untidy about him. Perhaps he had been dozing off when the decapitating blow had fallen.

At the other end of the Verandah was another man sprawled out. This one was snoring peacefully in a drunken stupor, lying on his back, heedless of the discomfort of the hard boards beneath him. His naked and bloody sword lay by him where he had passed out, and there was a spattering of blood and vomit on his uniform. It appeared that they might have had a disagreement with each other, possibly over a woman after they had returned from the village and its women. One honored soldier, killed by the sword of his drunken compatriot. The rest of the officers would be made to suffer for this. Their weekly forays into the village in search of women to replace those who died, or were released, would be halted after this as punishment. Who might know what had happened to cause such a falling out, and such violence between friends. Open disagreements between any of the officers and even the soldiers were strongly discouraged with the promise of severe punishment, and did not usually go to such an extreme as this one had.

The first officer recovered his thoughts and his composure. He strode out with sudden urgency to report what he had seen to his superior, and to have guards summoned to secure the murderer until he could be dealt with. Colonel Osaka, the commanding officer, would not waste too much time deliberating over what he must do. One soldier, even an officer, who took the life of another officer, would not merit much time. There were more important things to consider. He would be executed within the hour by the sword, as his companion had been. The lesson to others would be clear.

There would be no possibility that he would be given the chance to attempt any detailed explanation of the event, nor would he be given the option of taking his own life in his disgrace, and recover any honor by that Samurai tradition; Seppuku. He deserved no such honor. It would all occur before sunrise and before the mine guards returned from their overnight tour at the tungsten mine, ensuring that output continued, as they drove the workers ever harder. Their replacements had left camp a half hour earlier in the dark and would have seen none of this.

Two dead officers would be buried that morning. Their possessions would be packed away to be returned to their families. Colonel Osaka’s brief written description to his superiors and to the family members at home would extol their courage and dedication to duty in serving the Emperor, while saying nothing of what had happened to bring questions upon himself, or how they had died. Had he even known it!

Outside of that same compound, a single agile observer hidden in a tall tree overlooking the site, took in what he could of what transpired after that headless body was discovered. He had watched the summary execution of the still drunken and confused officer, held steady, his arms tied behind him, kneeling on the ground.

The watcher had even smiled, and felt relieved as Osaka’s own sword had sliced through the prisoner’s neck, sending that head rolling and blood flying in a sudden fountain. Later, as a disturbance at the main gate with the incoming mine guards distracted the attention of those in the towers, he climbed down and cautiously returned to his village, feeling much relieved over the outcome and ready to relate everything he had seen, including the execution, and the two fresh graves. Two men dead, for what twenty of them had done the night before in the village and to its women, would never be enough. More would pay. Word had already gone out. Other Japanese would die in accidents in the mine from falling rocks that same day, and soon there would be a washout under the supports of a bridge across a swollen river. Many would drown when their truck crashed through the bridge after the heavy rains that previous night. Those same rains had also obscured what others had done in moving two bodies—one already without a head—under the fence, to be placed on the verandah.

All Japanese deaths after this would be made to look accidental, from poisonings of their water and food supply, from infections caused by the deliberately contaminated herbal medications the Japanese stole from them to treat minor wounds and upsets, intestinal diseases because of sewage contamination of their precious water supply, and deaths from snake bites. They would all become more frequent.

The colonel would never know what had happened the previous night or how the bodies of the decapitated officer, or his comatose companion—innocent of murder—had been placed where they had been, in the stygian gloom during that storm. It had all been contrived to look like murder of one by the other on that same verandah. The amount of blood that a man might lose from being decapitated had been thrown carefully up against the wall to resemble arterial spray, and more had saturated his uniform to pool on the seat and the floor beneath him. No one might know that it was pig’s blood.

There would be no executions of any villagers in any reprisal for this. The watcher could report back to his village—almost empty in expectation of the worst, and to Tremlow, the foreign doctor and his daughter—that what had happened the previous night; the violence leading to the decapitation of that officer in the village, rather than in the camp, and the drugging of the second with opium, would remain a secret.

Once his red-haired daughter, Ruth, was recovered enough from her relatively minor, though painful and disfiguring injuries received at the hands of the decapitated man; executed even as he had thought to rape her, they would both certainly need to leave the area, and the sooner the better.

The Japanese did not always trust what was obvious and would become increasingly suspicious once they began to die in greater numbers, as they certainly would.

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1. 1944. China.
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