"You okay?" asked J.D., who had his seat belt on.
"Yeah," replied Minks a little shaken.
"Good, then hang on."
J.D. pulled away from the tree, then pressed the pedal to the floor.
"What the Hell are you doing?!" screamed Minks, as they headed for the smoky remains of the bridge. "I thought you knew a short cut!"
"This is the short cut."
The jeep barely managed to throw itself across the gap. J.D. heard the back axle crack, as the back tires hit the jagged pieces of bridge on the other side. He then jammed the brake and turned, managing to only glance a tree, rather than smashing right into it.
"Iím glad we took her car," muttered Minks, desperately trying to get his seatbelt latched.
J.D. knew that the only place the road intersected the Mullica before it headed out to sea was where the Garden State Park Way crossed it near Exit 48. Barreling up Route 624, the jeep began to smoke.
"Tell me exactly what you took from the sub," insisted J.D.
"Um, some brass handles, buttons, a saber, some jewelry---"
"Shh! Wait a minute, shut up for a second," insisted J.D. trying to listen.
He was hearing music. J.D. stole a glance at Minks and much to his surprise, noticed he was listening too.
"Is that Greensleeves?" he asked.
"Hang on," said J.D., turning down a dirt path.
About 200 yards from the main road they spotted the group in a clearing. Here and there were the foundations of Revolutionary War era buildings. Decked out in 18th century clothes, a man and woman danced around a ghostly campfire, while a ghostly lute player, jammed energetically. A short, little monk-like ghost drank from a never-ending mug of ale and a fifth fellow, with a bow strapped to his back, played a music box and laughed.
"What the Hell?" gasped Minks.
"You can see them?" said J.D. incredulous. "Thatís very rare. Címon, quick introduction. Joe!"
"Little John!" smiled the robberbaron in delight.
"Hazzar!" cried the ghosts.
With a wave of his hand, the ghostly campfire extinguished itself and disappeared. The ghosts smiled and floated toward the jeep.
"L-little John?" asked Minks nervously.
"Itís just a game he plays," assured J.D. "Just go along. We need their help."
"Tch-tch-tch, Little John," smiled Madeline impishly, noticing the condition of the jeep. "Canít you ever play nice with your toys?"
"Roger Minks, this is the infamous Joe Mulliner and the Refugees. Madeline, Wil, Red, Alan and the Friar," introduced J.D. pointing. "I donít know how you can see them, but there they are."
"Quite simple," smiled Joe, shaking the stunned Minks hand energetically. "Your friend here has a bit of larceny in his heart! Ay, boyo?"
"I donít know what youíre talking about," insisted Minks. "I recovered that German stuff legally."
"Thatís the spirit!" laughed Alan, giving the lute a quick strum.
"Listen, Joe, we need your help," J.D. said, trying to focus things. "A group of ghosts is tearing up the river with their submarine."
"Well, whatever a submarine is, tell it to stop. Iíve heard less ruder noises come out of the Friar!" joked Joe.
The Friar punctuated the statement with a few ghostly belches and farts, which broke up the rest of the Refugees, except Madeline, who frowned.
"A submarine is like a big metal boat," said Minks, mockingly. "Maybe you Renaissance Fair rejects could play the crew a concert and bore them to death."
"Minks," said J.D. putting his head to his hand. "Youíre an idiot."
The ghosts, insulted by Minks taunting, gestured and lifted him into the air. Unfortunately, they were somehow lifting him only by the waist, giving him the wedgie of a lifetime.
"Ahhh! Ow!" cried the diver. "Hey! This is going right up my ass!"
"Joe, we really donít have time for this," pleaded J.D.
And with that, Minks suddenly plunged back into the jeep sideways, bruised but okay. Joe turned towards J.D.
"Thatís a bit presumptuous of you," he smiled roguishly. "Why should the Refugees help you? Maybe the sub-mar-ine is our countrymen come back to take what belongs to King George!"
"You owe me, remember?" J.D. reminded.
"Chin up, Little John," assured Joe. "I was only teasing. But be warned, my friend. Things are not as they used to be in the Pines."
The ghost leaned forward and took an unusually somber tone.
"Since Headless Nate disappeared, the otherworldly forces here have been put out of balance. I donít know what or if they can be balanced again, but I do know one thing-- If the Refugees help you, it could make it worse. A lot worse, Little John."
Dieter peered through the periscope. There was nothing inside but river silt and a dead catfish, but somehow, he knew where they were going. The sub responded differently, as if prone to his every though and gesture.
"Iím going up top," he wanted to say to Basil, his second.
But Basil wasnít listening, he responded as instinctively as the sub. He climbed up the rust ladder and shoved the remains of the hatch open. Now Dieter knew something was wrong, something was different. But it didnít matter. All that mattered now was the mission and Anna. Nothing would stop them. Nothing.
Joe and the Refugees now galloped on ghostly horseback, while following the jeep. Minks watch in awe, as the translucent steeds kept pace with the vehicle at 60 mph.
"Little John!" called Joe. "I know of a short cut! Weíll meet you there!"
J.D. wave in acknowledgment and the Refugees peeled off into the trees disappearing almost as if they were never there.
"I know who you are," said Minks suddenly. "I got a buddy in the Devilís Hand. Said he met this crazy ass hermit that thinks heís the Jersey Devil and talks to ghosts. Said the hermitís just about the most dangerous guy he ever met and this is coming from a biker whoís psychotic. That you, hermit?"
J.D. glanced sideways at Minks, unsure of what to say.
"I havenít decided yet," admitted J.D. "But I ainít crazy no more."
This statement did little to reassure Minks.
"We need to be in the south bound lanes," said J.D. pulling onto Garden State Parkway North. "Hang on."
Cutting across the median, J.D. skidded the jeep across three lanes of light traffic and stopped on the bridge overlooking the Mullica. He pulled out the shotgun and he and Minks stood at the center of the bridge. In the distance, he could see the U-boat. Itís rusting hull was dotted with German skeletons and the Refugees fighting one another.
"Joe, you hot dog," J.D. muttered to himself. "Weíve got to find out why theyíre here, not start a---"
Just then, the headlights of a group of state troopers skidded to a halt on the parkway. They were stopping traffic, much to the dismay of the cars behind them. J.D. wasted no time ordering them, even though the troopers were here to arrest him.
"Get some road flares and stop the traffic on both sides," he ordered.
"Just get your hands in the air!"
"Donít shoot!" begged Minks. "He kidnapped me!"
"I donít know why I bother," muttered J.D. grabbing Minks.
He dragged the frightened Minks to the edge of the bridge, just as the sub approached. The troopers, in slow realization, saw the sub and its skeletal crew.
"What the Hell are you doing?!" demanded Minks.
"Weíre hitching a ride," explained J.D. smiling.
As J.D. prepared to jump, he spotted another police car arrive. For a second, he made eye contact with the driver. It was Detective Ken Ryder, probably the only other person that might recognize him. Ryder eyed him suspiciously, but before he could get a good look, J.D. and Minks went over the side.
Minks landed in the center of the deck, but J.D. lost his balance and nearly fell into the water. The shotgun bounced away and ended up at the feet of a skeleton German officer. As J.D. struggled to pull himself up, Minks scrambled backwards on his hands and feet away from the dead German. The skeleton pulled out an antique pistol and aimed it at Minks, who instinctively swatted it away. The gun, which hadnít been fired in 85 years, went off, but the force of Minkís blow sent the skeletonís arm and gun over the side of the sub. Joe ran to J.D.ís aid.
"Tsk-tsk, you never could stay out of the water," Joe said roguishly, referring to their staff fight some years ago.
"You donít fight fair," reminded J.D., climbing onto the deck and grabbing the shotgun.
As the sub passed under the North bound bridge, the deck gun fired. The Refugees had already ruined its trajectory, sending the ghostly shelling into the river bank, where it exploded amongst the reeds and sent a shower of mud over the state troopers. Wil, Alan and Red were fighting the skeleton crew in close quarters, while the Friar, giggled and turned the tiny wheel which cause the deck gun to rise. As the sub passed under the North bound bridge, the barrel of the deck gun was caught and the whole contraption was ripped off the sub by the bridge. The deck gun crew, along with half the deck, was torn off and went into the water. Wil, Alan, Red and the Friar let the hulking twists of metal pass harmless through them.
Madeline let two of the skeletal crew chase her with sabers, then stop, turned toward them and smiled. A tree branch passed harmless through her head as the sub when past, but plowed into the crewmen, sending their bones overboard.
Dieter emerged on the deck of the U-boat, but something was wrong. Where was the deck gun? The crew? He had send one of his officers and two seaman to see what the trouble was, but they hadnít returned. This wasnít right. Now there were Americans on the sub! He couldnít complete the mission with them here.
"NEIN!" he found himself screaming.
J.D., Minks, Joe and the Refugees turned to hear Dieterís screech. Suddenly, the metal on the end of the sub untwisted, the deck gun and its crew emerged from the water and returned to their original positions. The one armed officerís arm returned to its elbow and the two crewmanís bone reassembled themselves on the deck.
"You didnít tell me these fellows were German, Little John," Joe said thoughtfully. "Theyíre crafty buggers."
Now, twice as many of the crew emerged to fight on the sub. Dieter stood atop the command module directing the action. He knew the sub would move on its own now. There would be nothing to stop the mission. Nothing.
J.D. blew away skeletons with the shotgun, only to find the same ones reforming almost instantly. Minks found himself edging closer and closer to the front of the sub away from the action. It was then, he looked ahead out into the approaching open sea.
"J.D.! Look!" he pointed.
Up ahead, where the Mullica met the sea, there was once a definitive edge where the ghosts could not venture beyond. It was marked by a ghostly, white line that hugged the Jersey coast. But now the border had been broken and the ghostly white line was bleeding off into the horizon into the sea.
"What is it?!" screamed Minks.
"Whatever it is, it isnít good!" assured the hermit. "You donít know any German do you?"
"Isnít the Friar German?" remembered Madeline suddenly.
"Well that would explain a lot," quipped Joe.
"Joe!" shouted J.D. over the fight. "Get the Friar to talk to the Captain! Whatever that is out there it canít be good if we hit it!"
"As much as Iíd like to see England again," Joe replied, disarming one of the Germans with his rapier. "Iíd have to agree."
With a wink and nod from Joe, the fat ghost floated up to Dieter and began speaking with him. As he translated, Joe relayed the information to J.D.
"Seems he wants to mine the Delaware River," relayed Joe incredulously. "Now what sort of mine can you dig underwater?"
"Iíll explain later. Tell him the war is over," insisted J.D. fending off a skeleton with his now empty shot gun.
"Iím afraid the poor fellow is pining over someone named Anna. He has her picture in a locket," Joe sympathized. "All this over a woman? Now it makes sense."
"I got it!" squeaked Minks, hardly believing it himself. "I was afraid Debbie was gonna take it."
Minks pulled the locket out and almost immediately, the sub shifted into high gear, but the skeleton crew failed to return when destroyed.
"Give it to me!" hollered J.D.
"But itís the best piece!" insisted Minks.
J.D. snatched the locket out of Minks hand, opened it to the picture and held it aloft. The crew seemed to lose their fighting spirit. Dieter leaped down and took the locket from J.D. gently.
"Tell him the warís over," J.D. instructed. "Tell him, its time to join Anna."
Almost immediately, the skeleton crew began to collapse and U-13 began breaking apart. Joe and the Refugees mounted their ghost steeds and prepared to gallop across the water and back into the Pines.
"Isnít that just like a woman," smiled Joe to Madeline. "To make a fellow go all to pieces."
"Weíll see you in the Pines, Little John," waved Madeline as they left. "Itís wonderful to have you back! You get in the most interesting trouble!"
"Hey! What about us?!" screamed Minks.
The deck began to buckle, as U-13 headed out to see on its final destination. Minks took a step towards Dieter, contemplating snatching the locket.
"Donít even think about it," threatened J.D. pushing him overboard.
As U-13 reached the edge of the flowing, ghostly mist, Dieterís skeleton eyes looked up beyond the misty veil. J.D. looked back just in time to see a womanís face just beyond the veil. Then the sub sank quietly beneath the waves and was gone.
An hour later, J.D. and Minks sat on a muddy stretch of beach resting from their swim back to shore. J.D. kept staring out over the water where the white flowing border once was.
"What was that thing?" asked Minks after a long silence.
"Maybe its the door between this world in the next. Maybe its Heaven or Hell. I donít know, but I expect one day, weíll all find out."
And Dieter woke up next morning to the warm touch of Anna. She had already made him breakfast. Heíd continue working on their house in Rostock in the amazingly clear, crisp, mountain air. He couldnít remember when he had ever been so happy. What had kept him away so long? He couldnít remember. It didnít matter. Only Anna mattered and nothing would ever separate him from her again. Nothing