China Marine: Tsingtao Treasure
A Marine Returns to China in Search of Hidden Treasure
Corporal Harry Martin served with the US Marines in China after World War 11 until the Communist takeover in 1949. Harry witnessed China in the raw, and was happy to get back home to Michigan in one piece and return to civilian life. For thirty years he put China out of his mind, until one day when a notorious blackmarketeer, Joe Gionetti, appeared. Joe had been caught and brought to trial. Harry was a key witness that put Joe away. Joe had served his time in prison and refused to disclose where he and his partner had stashed millions away in China. Joe was now terminally ill and he asked Harry to return to Tsingtao to retrieve the money. Could Harry trust Joe? Would the money still be there? How could Harry get back to Tsingtao, not an easy thing to do in 1978? Luck fell Joe’s way when he was offered a position as mate aboard a Swedish grain ship leaving the Great Lakes bound for Shanghai and Tsingtao. Harry took the position and found more adventure than he bargained for, from the very moment he stepped aboard an ill fated ship until he reached Tsingtao where his troubles really began.
Readers thoughts on Tsingtao Treasure
Ray Walsh, Lansing (MI) State Journal Book Reviews:
“Harcus has created a memorable cast of characters and a variety of stimulating situations in his debut novel: excellent cover art makes this title more appealing.”
Bill Seyffarth (China Marine) Hicksville, NY:
“I finished reading your book and it was a pleasure to read a good story again. Good plot, descriptive, devious twists and turns and above all, well defined and informative Good job!”
Dorothy Luxton, Bellaire, MI :
“Congratulations!!!! I loved the book. I finished it last night. You bet it kept my attention. It moved fast and was fun to read. When is the next one coming out?”
Mike Schreiner, Lansing MI:
“Your writing style made the book a hard one to lay down. I found myself placing it on the floor by my easy chair for a few minutes and being compelled to pick it up again so as to experience the next chain of events.”
Ole Olsen (China Marine) Ontario, CA:
“Read your book and really enjoyed it. You painted a good picture of Tsingtao. The story line was very good and descriptions of places were excellent. I did think you were a bit heavy on sex, but hell, who doesn’t like sex!”
Jim Rice, Ballston Spa, NY:
“I really enjoyed reading China Marine: Tsingtao Treasure. I liked the way you developed your characters and brought them together. Harry became a good friend from the start — a bit of a hero like Mickey Spillane, but yet, not overdone. Your book certainly has the right mix of suspense, intrigue, excitement and humor.”
LIBERTY IN SIN CITY
Harry inspected himself in the mirror. After all these weeks at sea it was hard to believe the clean-shaven, well-groomed man looking back at him was really him. It felt different being reasonably dressed after living in work clothes for so long. He checked out his black dress slacks and black flannel shirt again. Even his dress shoes felt light, awkward, after heavy workshoes. He looked down several times to assure himself he was wearing shoes.
Flaring the collar of his shirt, he held up the heavy gold pendent to his neck, then hesitated. Naw, he thought after a moment with a subtle shake of his head. Sandy would have liked it. Maybe he was getting a little too old for pendants and bracelets. He’d let it pass for now. Dropping the pendent back in his dresser drawer, he reached beyond it to a pair of rolled up socks. Unrolling them, he took out a roll of bills. Peeling off four fifties, a couple of twenties a few ten spots and several singles he balled the rest back into the socks and stuffed them to the back of the drawer. Good old American greenbacks ought to pay for a hot night in Shanghai.
Slipping on his old leather jacket, he grabbed a pair of warm leather gloves, stuffed them in his pocket, picked up his pass from the desktop and headed for the main deck humming to himself.
Evening was the nicest time of the day, he thought, as he watched the late slanting rays of sunlight breaking through the cloud cover, reflecting off the dull, dirty windows of several taller buildings. He shivered. It was chilly. Hurriedly, he made his way down the gangway and headed for the guardhouse by the main gate. He showed his pass to a Chinese soldier with a burp gun casually slung over his shoulder, and was waved through.
Harry stood just outside the gate and looked about him. No rickshaws? Not even a pedicab. What gives, he wondered. The street was crowded with people, and as he looked at them closer, he saw they all seemed to be dressed alike in blue and black Mao jackets, even the women. No chatter, no hustle, no “Hey, sailor, no momma, no poppa, need money, can get you a deal, got my sister – “ Nothing. And not one damned rickshaw in sight! He’d have to hoof it up to the Bund on foot. And any action, he thought, well, just looking at the female population wrapped up tight in high-collared Mao jackets was not really a turn on. Hell, there had to be a place for action, even in Communist China. Sin couldn’t have been outlawed; where there was a will, there was a way. He was sure of that.
Thirty years, and a lifetime earlier, he’d taken a rickshaw to the Enlisted Men’s Club in Shanghai. That turned into a hell of an experience when the boy demanded screaming rickshaw boys suddenly surrounded more money and him. Thankfully, an MP Sergeant had come to his rescue, beating his way through the crowd with a billy club. This time he wasn’t the “boot” Marine wet behind the ears. No. He was ready.
It didn’t bother him that most of the crew had headed ashore an hour earlier. The last time he’d been in Shanghai, he’d felt really rushed tagging along with his buddies, having to see as much as possible, to get to the Enlisted Men’s Club, the shops, everything before liberty ended. This time he planned to shop, to look around, to enjoy himself, not rushing helter-skelter through the city. If Shanghai hadn’t changed too drastically under Communist rule, he might even find himself enjoying sexual gratification in the arms of a dark-eyed Chinese whore. The thought excited him Shanghai, he mulled the name several times. It was exciting to be here.
He started off walking at a fairly brisk pace making his way through the teeming crowds, watchful for pickpockets, inhaling the smell of garlic and onions, dodging a sea of bikes, older model cars and the press of people as he made his way along the Bund. Before long, he headed in toward Nanking Road Here, he took time to windowshop, to browse in several small, obscure shops, stopping to check the prices on embroidered jackets, carved ivory, jade and native made bric-a-brac. Pickings were slim. Although the gates to China had been open for a while, there was still a limited supply of “touristy-type” goods.
He wandered along listening to the sing-song sound of the Chinese thronging the streets, occasionally recognizing a familiar word, smiling back at the faces who smiled curiously at him. For the most part, the people were dressed in the traditional, distinctive, high-collared blue and black jackets and black trousers. He noticed that the younger men looked at his dress with a twinge of envy, wanting to get out of the traditional look and into something modern. American, English or even French or Italian.
Most women had the short-clipped haircuts, unattractive clothes, and unattractive shoes. They wore a bored, beaten down look, seldom glancing up, never smiling.
Harry caught an occasional one who would look up at him He’d smile, wink if she was attractive. She might offer an embarrassed smile in return but kept on going. After several blocks he heard the distinct sound of English spoken, profane though it was, it was still English. The profanity came from inside a small building. He poked his head inside. A bar! Several people were seated at the bar, a few more scattered about the room at run-down tables. It was a mix of Asians, a couple of tough-looking sailors speaking in Russian, but no females. Harry settled in on the one empty stool at the bar. A bleary-eyed older man glanced up as Harry sat down. “What’ll it be mate?” he asked. “Old Cheng Wang just got himself some good old American beer Millers.”
“Millers,” said Harry. “Good beer.“ The old Chinaman behind the bar quickly popped the top on a bottle and set it on the bar.
It surprised Harry that they had Millers. Trade’s improving, he commented to himself. The beer tasted good. The last time he could recall having a cold Millers in China was in Peiping at the Wagon Litz Hotel on a hot, sultry July day back in 1948. It was just as good now as it was then.
“You off that damned big Swedish grain ship?” the bleary-eyed one asked.
“Yes,” Harry replied.
The man looked askance at him for several seconds. “You speak good English for a Swede,” he grinned, taking a swig of beer.
“I’m American. Signed on for the trip.”
Again, the man looked at him for several seconds, and then asked, “Ever been to Shanghai before?”
“Yeah. Thirty years ago. Marine Corps,” Harry replied taking a deep swallow of beer.
“Marines? Hey, I was a Marine once, back in the thirties. Got busted from Staff Sergeant down to buck private. I had my time in so I got myself discharged here, worked for a big oil company. Pensioned out here” He waved his hand around indicating the room. “Names Johnson, Algernon P. Johnson. Call me Al.” He reached out and shook Harry’s hand. “Stupid place to retire. Sad. Japs. Nationalists. Communists I been through all that crap. Even got re-programmed by the Commies. Hell, I should write a book about all the crap I‘ve been through in the past thirty years. Pure crap!”
“Harry Martin,“ Harry offered. “What happened to all the rickshaws? I can’t find one, not even one.”
Al looked at him, and then smiled showing terribly stained teeth, a couple broken off. “An you ain’t gonna find any in town either, The Commies eliminated them, said it was a rich man’s burden on the proletariat. How about that?”
“Sounds like the town is buttoned down tight,” Harry said. “What do you do for action?”
Al grinned. “Hell, I’ve got me a Chinese wife, five kids and twelve damned bratty grandkids running around I got action, even at my age.”
“The good old days are gone,” he said with a deep sigh. “Back then we hung out at Jimmy’s Place, swing band, lots of girls, good looking’ white Russians and slick Chinese, the old Imperial Club, the racetrack, all gone. Commies came down hard on sin. Now, if yer looking for action,” and he leaned closer, breathing a whiskey breath in Harry’s face, “ ya gotta know yer way around this town Underground, we call it.”
Harry leaned back taking a deep breath. “What’s the underground?”
“You got to know who’s working the action Now, I could get you a couple of whores if that’s what you want,” Al said kind of sizing Harry up, “but I think you want the good stuff. There’s a hotel down the street, big old British run joint and I understand they’ve got some pretty good stuff, pretty pricey, though.”
Harry listened, not saying a word. The guy was probably stringing him along, maybe going to put the touch on him.
SHANTUNG UNIVERSITY: THE OLD MARINE BASE
Promptly at noon the black Buick rounded the end warehouse and came to a stop beside the Nurad where Captain Andress, Sigmund and Harry waited. The two officers looked distinguished in dress black uniforms and braid. Harry looked equally impressive in casual slacks, opened neck shirt, sweater and his leather jacket.
The doors of the limousine were swung wide by the attentive driver and the trio was warmly greeted by Mr. Ma. Opting to rank, as the two officers climbed into the back, Harry eased into the front seat next to the driver who immediately shifted the car into gear and headed inland away from the dock area.
“Der men haf been informed about shore leave,” Captain Andress said, addressing his remarks to Mr. Ma. “I suspect dey vill haf der ship unloaded by 1500 hours at der rate dey are vorking now.” He laughed. “Dey are anxious to get into town. Vat’s dat saying about a fool and dere money.”
“There is much to see in Qingdao,” an amused Mr. Ma said. “We have culture, theater, movies, dance troupes, acrobats, a museum and much more.”
“Good. It vill be good for der men to go ashore. Dey vill haf a better understanding of der Chinese people und der culture,” the Captain continued. “Und dey vill get all der shenanigans out of der vay before dey come back on board ship for der long trip back to Saginaw.”
“I know what you mean,” Harry agreed. “I think this town has much to offer.”
“It’s not vat you’re tinking, Harry,” chuckled Sigmund with good-natured sarcasm. “He means der men can move about, see some of der sights mentioned by Mr. Ma, get a few beers, valk around und haf a chance to relax.”
“No offense, Harry, but dose houses you vunce frequented probably no longer exist,” grinned Captain Andress. He gave a good-natured wink toward Mr. Ma. “In fact, I doubt dey haf any of dose kind of vomen in Qingdao, right, Mr. Ma?”
“Not that the authorities know of,” replied Mr. Ma.
Harry turned away from them facing front, grinning. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he whispered to himself. “Ever since Adam and Eve…”
The limousine sped past the entrance to the Old Japanese Compound and on under the railroad bridge then turned sharply to the right toward the main part of town. Harry found his head swiveling from side to side recalling locations and places. Qingdao was still a bustling seaport. The streets teemed with hordes of people milling about, walking somewhat aimlessly, gawking, talking, standing in groups about the small open air markets, deftly dodging the ever present bicycles and motorized traffic in an unperturbed manner.
The driver braked constantly, impatiently banging on the horn. His efforts were, at the least, futile. The incident reminded Harry of his recent kidnapping in Shanghai and the speed with which the driver attempted to race away. It brought a grin to his face. They were going at almost the same speed.
As they topped a rise, Harry recognized where they were almost immediately, the main street. The car moved slowly down the street and Harry glanced around vaguely recalling old haunts.
The car rolled to a stop at curbside stopping before a large restaurant. Harry’s mouth dropped open; it was the old Tivoli Restaurant.
Alighting from the car he took in the immediate area with a sweeping look. No U.S. Allies Whorehouse, no Sparky’s bar, no Enlisted Men’s club. But the Tivoli, damn but it was the same as he recalled it some thirty years ago. He shook his head. Remarkable.
“You find it interesting?” asked Mr. Ma stepping in next to Harry.
“My God, yes! I spent a lot of time walking around this area, these streets, a lot of time. I got goose bumps just standing here, here in Qingdao, here in front of the Tivoli.”
“You may wish to return later today and once again recall pleasant memories of the past,” said Mr. Ma. “For your pleasure, we are eating in the Tivoli today. They are awaiting us,” he added. Leading the delegation, Mr. Ma strode briskly toward the entrance where a doorman quickly swung the door wide. A grinning, bowing maitre’d in starched uniform, greeted them. Turning, he led them through the restaurant to a private room at the back. A bevy of equally starched waiters stood against the far wall awaiting them, dark eyes watching intently as they approached one of the larger tables which was appropriately adorned with fresh-cut flowers.
Crisp, starched white linen napkins, arranged in the shape of a fan, sat on an equally crisp, starched white tablecloth. Amy Vanderbilt would have been pleased at the sight, Harry thought as he surveyed the table: everything was precisely arranged.
“Please be seated,” Mr. Ma said. At his nod, the maitre’d clapped his hands and the army of waiters descended upon them. Water glasses were filled, wine glasses filled.
Rising, Mr. Ma held up his glass of wine. “This is a vintage white wine, a blend of grapes from our new winery located on the Shantung peninsula, a first for the area.” Then, he led off with a toast to China, relating how China has taken the initiative to improve international relations. This was followed by a toast to the Swedish sailors for their adroit seamanship in transporting the precious cargo of grain to Qingdao. A true diplomat, Mr. Ma offered a special toast on behalf of Harry’s return to the orient, that he was the first American Marine to return to this fair city, and to their renewed friendship and his quest of adventure, whatever it may be, and that it be successful.
Harry thanked him, getting into the spirit of the occasion, calling for a toast to the many happy times he had spent in Qingdao, the pleasure of having worked with such great men as Mr. Ma, and assuring him that although his stay in port would be short, they would meet again one day. Mr. Ma touched his glass to Harry’s assuring him they would.
A toast was offered by Captain Andress on behalf of the citizens of Sweden, and the American government for making this journey a reality.
A gourmet meal followed served in eight courses, beginning with sliced eggs, pineapple and rice cakes, fried minced shrimp patties, soup cooked in melons with meats, nuts and chick peas, chicken breasts with vegetable inserts, green vegetable stalks with cream sauce, fried rice with pork and eggs, and a small sweet cake along with sweet rolls and oranges to top off the meal.
Attentive waiters hovered over each guest ensuring they had plenty to eat and drink. Beyond the sing-song chattering and the table discussions could be heard the melodic strains of Chinese music.
“Whew. I haven’t eaten such a delicious meal since, I guess since the last time I ate here in the spring of 1949,” Harry said pushing away from the table, patting his bulging stomach. “Excellent. Simply excellent. The Tivoli was noted for it’s fine food way back then and I’m pleased to see it has retained its high standards for culinary excellence.”
“You have a good sense of recall,” Mr. Ma beamed. “Did China make that deep an impression on you?”
“Yes, it did,” Harry replied after a moment. “I guess it did impress me. This was my home for almost three years. I spent a lot of time exploring this town and the outlying area, the smaller villages and rugged terrain. I especially enjoyed the Lao Shan Mountains to the north of us, the beautiful terraced hills and colorful little coves, the small fishing villages nestled along the shoreline, the people, their quaint dress, your melodic language and your warmth. Yes, I guess you can say I have fond memories of my time in Tsingtao.”
“Qingdao,” Mr. Ma hastened to correct.
Then, quick to follow on Harry’s positive response, Mr. Ma added, “I hope, like you, that many other former service men will one day return to pay us a visit, perhaps bringing their families with them so all might experience our land and our peoples.”
After a momentary hesitation, he looked directly at Harry, asking, as though another thought had crossed his mind, “Is there something else that brings you back, Harry? A long lost love, a quest to recapture your youth, something else of equal value? After all, you are the first ex-Marine to return.”
Harry gave a light shake of his head, a whimsical smile coming to his face. “Corrections,” he said. “There are no ex-Marines, only former marines. Naw, just dumb luck brought me back, being in the right place at the right time, getting on board Nurad which was headed for China.” His smile grew more rueful. “Nothing of value here to return for, maybe a couple of blue-eyed Chinese bastards running around that’d love to see their old man, but nothing I’d deliberately come half way around the world for. At least not for a couple of bastard kids.” He laughed. Mr. Ma was not amused, his smile having turned coldly stoic.