Thanks to my usual cast and crew of advance readers and editors, especially Dragonsweb & The OldFart
If they made me a king, I'd be but a slave to you,
If I had everything, I'd still be a slave to you.
If I ruled the night, stars and moon so bright,
Still I'd turn for light to you.
If the world to me bowed, yet humbly I cling to you.
If my friends were a crowd, I'd turn on my knees to you.
If I ruled the earth, what would life be worth,
If I hadn't the right to you.
The music was written by Tolchard Evans, the lyrics by Robert Hargreaves and Stanley J. Damerell.
Frank Sinatra - The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings
Note from Jake Rivers,
This is my eighth semi-annual "invitational." The current effort consists of stories based on songs by Frank Sinatra, Ol' Blues Eyes. Please read the stories and give feedback to the participating authors. Unless I'm convinced otherwise, I'll probably stop after the tenth invitational.
Holy Cow! Talk about going right from the frying pan into the fire!
It was just barely Tuesday morning and already our lovely idyllic South Pacific island of Poravuvu was having its second revolution of this week! They had just barely picked up the bullet shell casings from yesterday's junta change! Just goes to figure...
Stop me if you've heard this joke before ... why is Poravuvu just like an old phonograph record? 33 revolutions per minute!
Yeah, it's an old joke — but sometimes it's true, or nearly so enough to make your head hurt!
Working for Oceania Nitrates, despite the regular government changes, is a pretty swell (and safe) gig. We're the golden goose of the island, the only real source of hard rock solid western currency, and while all of the 'Dear Leaders', Presidents, generalissimos, and overly ambitious colonels all wanted us kept under their thumb, they rarely apply the boot. President-for-Life Fetuano had tried that novelty during his socialist regime of the 1970's. No one, no matter how greedy or zealous had wanted to try that stunt again! The bird shit, and the dollars must flow!
Technically, the senior management is all American, appointed from our corporate office in the deepest darkest wilds of Arizona. They've had the contract for mining the phosphates from this fertilizer rich island since the early 1930's, despite most of the periodic political changes, for a couple of extremely good reasons. Our miners and engineers know what we're doing and extract the most potential fertilizer with the least amount of inconvenience to the locals, and pay (by third world standards) a fair wage to the local excavators, miners and shipping crews.
We've stayed out of local politics — strictly and absolutely, and for the most part, the local politics has in turn left us alone. As I said earlier, the flow of bat and bird shit, hundred of millions of tons of it from thousands of generations of migrating seabirds, must flow! With no other nearby islands within nearly a thousand miles of us, any passing bird has stopped here for relief and a light snack — and the several odd million years worth of once liquid crap is now worth near pure gold instead.
Today, the current officer with a mind for self-promotion, didn't seem to have read the memo and decided that he wanted to go old school on us. His guards shot their way into the gates of our plant, shot at a half dozen plant workers just on principle, then shot a couple more security guards outside our offices, and finally came trooping in to visit our plant manager with AK-47's at the ready, and a sincere willingness to use them — often, violently and at anything that moved.
Holy Cow! This was the first time I'd ever had a gun pointed at me and I didn't like the idea very much! I wasn't even an executive of the company! I'd been hired straight out of college three years as a civil engineer, to help build and repair the barely passable dirt roads, rotting wooden bridges, and to keep the docks of the island's only port functional. OK, the fact that I was related to the famous Colonel Renwick probably helped ... probably a lot. He was legendarily famous back then, and probably even more so now.
My grandfather Colonel John Renwick was a famous civil engineer who had a thirst for adventure in the wildest places of the world during the 1930's, came to this island just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor to hack out an airstrip out of the jungle, so that the US military could set up a base on the island to help protect the convoys to New Zealand and Australia during the darkest months of the Pacific war. In those halcyon days, Poravuvu wasn't an out of control kleptocracy. Back in my grandfather's day, the island had a queen — and a darned good one by all accounts! She disappeared at the time of the first revolution in early 1947, shortly after the end of World War Two, and by most accounts my legendary grandfather, Colonel Renwick was involved up to his eye-teeth. Some native stories say that he was her lover, and moments before the foreign mercenary soldiers stormed the queen's palace, he had spirited her away. In any case, the two of them were never seen again on the island.
Like King Arthur, or General Douglas MacArthur, there are folk legends that the queen (or her heir) will return again at the time of most need. I'd say that she was long, long overdue.
By most accounts, since the first revolution in 1947, thirty-seven heads have claimed the crown of this small island kingdom, but none has ever quite had the balls to crown themselves king. In Poravuvu tradition there can be no king. Always, from antiquity, a female line has ruled the island. So the island priests say, and no one, except for the insane President-for-Life Fetuano, has ever contested their will. The priests supposedly stay out of local politics too, but don't confuse them with pacifists. Push them hard, and they'll push you back even harder ... usually in the dead of night when you're all alone. Those ancient Polynesian pointed spears that they carry aren't entirely for show.
The first revolution was mostly a benign one ... relatively speaking. A bunch of unemployed Australian army officers heard about this remote South Pacific island and its quietly profitable phosphate industry and decided that they wanted in on the gravy train. Since the US military had completely pulled out of the island as soon as the ink on the Japanese surrender was dry, the queen had little more than a ceremonial guard to protect her from a couple of dozen mercenaries with guns. Their take-over was bloodless, but that precedent ended shortly afterwards. The next thirty-six odd palace revolts invariably terminated with extreme prejudice the careers of the top men above them, in a never-ending cycle of junior officers promoting themselves, and invariably bringing in a fresh group of foreign mercenaries to help hold them in power.
Wash, rinse, repeat, ad nauseium.
By far the single two worst leaders were President-for-Life Fetuano, during a long five year reign of absolute rule in the mid 1970's, followed by the possibly even worse, and slightly longer rule of the ultra-Marxist 'Dear Leader' Puleleiite.
Fetuano, in his greed didn't settle for what our company could discretely mine from just a few select caves of the island, which already held more than enough guano to last several hundred years of careful ecologically sound mining. Instead, he opened up the central valley of the island, the island's most fertile land, to large scale strip mining. If that wasn't enough, nearly the whole of the southern part of the island was clear-cut and burned to create a meager grassland for ranching for cattle, causing large scale ecological damage to much of the island's best remaining farm and crop land. This formerly tropical jungle once provided enough fruit, root crops, and other edibles to feed the entire local population, with significant leftovers available for export, and instead turned a land of plenty into a near barren land of hunger and deprivation. Even the birds, the very source of the island's wealth, decided to pack up and leave.
It was this anger that turned a local minor local priest into a socialist revolutionary. Under his regime, which shared much of the philosophy of Cambodia's Pol Pot, all of the middle-class were driven from their homes and villages to toil refilling by hand-tools the great earth scars of the open-air strip mine pits, and the southern fields of weeds were resown to attempt to return the land to jungle. Alas much too late, now that the formerly rich jungle topsoil had all been washed or eroded away into the sea. Maybe given a few generations, the forest will slowly reclaim what was taken, but the hands of men, under the shadow of gunmen and whips could do little to speed this process. Some calculate that a full third of the islanders were murdered or died of hunger during these dreadful seven years, until even the hardened killers of Puleleiite's inner circle had seen too much outright murder for them to stomach.
The more recent juntas since have been much more benign, but even decades of time hadn't allowed the islanders to recover to anywhere near their former standard of living. The lucky few workers with a job dug or transported millions of years of accumulated bat and bird shit, company boats took the guano to a processing plant in Mexico that turned the crap into first class fertilizer, which was sold in the states, which in turn exported food and other goods back to the island. No longer self-supporting, at least half of the islanders lived in small shanty villages at the north and south ends of the island in bone grinding poverty.
.... There is more of this story ...