Beach Road runs along the western coast of Saipan, following the water for much of the southernmost half of the island. Coconut and Flame trees lining the road were bent, bearing the brunt of the storm pouring in from the Philippine Sea. The road was empty and Bruce drove fast, a lit joint dangling from his lip. He couldn’t see more than a few meters ahead. Out of the rain a police car appeared suddenly, speeding past them in the other direction.
“Fuck me that was a cop!”, Bruce looked frantically in the rear-view mirror as the red taillights vanished into the darkness. “Are they turning around?”
Tess didn’t look back. “They don’t give a shit, Bruce. It’s all good. We’re almost there.”
Traveling down from Garapan and turning inland at San Jose village, the road begins a slow, winding climb into the foothills. Continuing east and to the north, office buildings, shops and clusters of apartments give way to dense vegetation and then jungle as the road winds past isolated homesteads, shacks on small plots, and family farms. Turning left again at the crest of the hill, the road becomes more narrow as it continues, steeper and further inland. Homes here are separated further by larger plots of land and swaths of jungle.
“There!” Tess pointed to a concrete bungalow, typical in these islands, set back from the small gravel road opposite a grove of wild coconut trees. Several cars were parked in front. The windows were boarded up. Bruce turned onto the driveway. The glow of a single kerosene lantern marked the front door.
Tess pulled the hood of the poncho down over her face, jumped out and ran through the rain to the house and up the porch steps, hammering her fist on the door. It opened a crack and a man stuck his face out, squinting in the wind.
“What’s the password?”, the man barked.
“Fuck you, Tom. Open up, it’s the apocalypse out here.” Tess pushed her way through. Bruce & Fuller followed her in.
“How are you doing, honey? Glad you made it.” Tom leaned in and gave Tess a peck on the cheek. “Leave your shit here. Shoes off, please.” He gestured in the direction of the rack in the foyer, already covered with wet ponchos and jackets.
Free of their soaked clothes, Tom gestured for them to follow. Candles along the floor lit the way through the house to a curtain at the end of the hallway. Tom pulled it aside, holding it open to allow the guests to pass.
The room glowed a wobbly warm orange. Sandalwood and hash smoke hung in the candlelight. People were gathered together in small groups, reclining on floor pillows, drinking, smoking weed, talking and laughing, seemingly oblivious to the events outside. Their shadows flickered across the walls. The room hummed with their conversations. A professional-looking man sat in a beanbag, plucking and tuning a guitar; on the other side of the room a skinny girl with dreadlocks played DJ from a laptop.
Tess had already made her way through the room to join a group in a corner. She motioned at Fuller to join them, patting the pillow beside her, “Come. Sit down.” One of the men in the group was speaking.
“… like three weeks ago. I’m driving down along some back road near San Vicente, and I see smoke coming up just up ahead. Lots of smoke.” He made an upward, wafting motion. “So I drive over there to see what it is and this huge area of jungle is smoldering. A brushfire came through and torched the whole place. It was all black. Trees were just blackened stumps. And people are standing around watching it. Then some kids get up and walk right into it and start poking around in the ashes. While it’s still smoking. If you think about it, that place has probably been untouched since the war. The last people to walk through there were probably American soldiers. Or Japanese. So these kids had the right idea. That’s some prime prospecting.”
Tess took a long pull from a joint and passed it to Fuller, inhaling deeply then exhaling her introduction.
“Hey. Sorry, Tony. One sec. Guys, this is Fuller. He’s new. And this is Babs, Tony, Ty, Connie, Dave.”, she waved an arc through the air.
The group greeted Fuller in turn. Ty took a beer from the bucket beside him, extending it to the newcomer. His left leg below the knee was a metal prosthetic. Tony continued his story.
“So then this one fucking kid starts yelling and dancing around, holding something over his head, pretending like he’s about to throw it. And people start bolting. Turns out this kid found a grenade with the pin pulled. And he’s like eight years old, so he doesn’t understand. He thinks it’s funny. Finally some adult runs at him and takes it away and chucks it back and slaps the kid up the back of the head and they left. I mean, it’s been how many years? It was probably a dud in the first place, and it’s been sitting in the jungle all this time. No way it’s gonna explode now, but still. I wonder who threw it. He must have been pissed when it didn’t go off. What if that dud got him killed? He might still be there.
“Anyway, there will be some good stuff out there after this.” Tony nodded toward a boarded window as he pulled his hair back, tying it in a ponytail. “We should definitely go out tomorrow.”
“Especially at the beaches,” Dave coughed a cloud of smoke in his rush to get the suggestion in.
“Definitely.”, Babs agreed.
A man appeared and leaned in, reaching over to Tony, who passed him his joint after taking a prolonged drag. He appeared to be in his early thirties, despite a full head of gray hair. “Everyone will be at the beach with their fucking kids poking through the trash. I say we boonie stomp. Trees will be down, mudslides. This storm is definitely uncovering some good stuff. And I need a sword.”
“That’s an urban myth. No one has ever found a sword. At least no one we know of.”, Dave scooted over to make room for Steve in the circle. “No one ever finds anything good in the jungle.”
Steve sat, grinning at his friend, “What the fuck do you know? You never go.”
Tess interrupted, “Steve, this … is Fuller.”
Steve extended his hand, smiling. “Hey man. Good to finally meet you. Welcome to Saipan. Glad you could make it tonight.” He turned back to Dave.
“And you’re wrong by the way. Remember that guy two years ago? The Spanish dude. Jose? He was a teacher or something?”
“Jorge.”, Connie corrected him.
“Yeah. That guy. He found a sword on a stomp in a cave out by the radar.”
“That was a tantō, doesn’t count.”, Dave grinned and took the joint from Steve.
Steve exhaled. “First off, it’s a sword. A short sword, but a sword. It counts. The point being that they’re out there. And I need one.”
A few months ago Fuller had known nothing more about this place than what he remembered from history class of the battle that happened here; that it was one of many as the Americans island-hopped across the Pacific, closing in on Japan. The fall of Saipan was the beginning of the end. With her cities now in range of American bombers and the loss of her navy in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the island garrisons were the last hope of the empire. For a few long weeks in the summer of 1944, these islands were the central focus of the Pacific war. When it was done, and the atomic bombs were dropped, the war ended and the Marianas receded back into obscurity.
Now he was here, several decades later, getting high with the grandchildren of the generation that had pried these islands from Japanese hands and then used them to incinerate her cities.
What would those men think if they could see this place today? The islands are American territory now, but the Japanese are back, playing golf, riding jet-skis and snorkeling in turquoise waters among the sunken remains of their former might.
“Speaking of which, we should retire to my office and discuss that thing.” Steve patted Fuller on the shoulder and stood. “Hey Tony can you grab those beers?”
“I’m coming too.” Tess stood, motioning at Fuller and Tony to follow.