"He's coming back!"
All the men crowded into the hall to rush to the south-facing windows. Alone, Remy hurtled to the back doorway. Here he had a view across the southern grounds of the Los Baños camp, between the guards' office and one of the married barracks. Four guards there watched the fighter bank wide above the jungle. Mount Makiling caught the plane's engine noise and threw it back across the camp in echo. None of the men in Remy's barracks cheered. The Japanese would not stand for that loss of face.
The plane leveled its wings. Other fighters had buzzed the camp, but those pilots had stayed on course after their joyride and disappeared. None had done this, come back.
The four Japanese outside their office sensed something different, too. They ducked behind their bamboo porch. Elsewhere in the camp, other guards scurried and shouted. The fighter bore in, menacing behind its slow, swelling roar.
In the barracks, someone hollered, "What the hell's he doing?" From Boot Creek, cuckoos and bush doves flitted out of the tangle of palms and acacias; an indigo egret flapped away, spooked. The fighter dropped below the level of the foliage along the ravine. Remy lost sight of it.
No guards stood in the open hoping for a one-in-a-million rifle shot. The hidden plane closed in, trembling the floorboards under Remy's sandals.
Outside the southern fence, a storm of wind and knives mowed through the treetops above Boot Creek. The stones of the ravine drummed and split. The bedlam halted as fast as it started, to begin again in the next moment farther along the ravine. This second burst stopped quickly; a third barrage did the same. Then a long rip of bullets pelted the remaining length of the creek.
The next instant, the fighter followed its guns. Only fifty feet above the camp, it blasted by at a speed that beggared any machine Remy had seen in his life. The men in the barracks leaped across the hall for the opposite set of windows to see the American go. Remy in the doorway watched this amazing thing; when the war and internment started, no one in the camp had ever seen a single wing plane, only the biwinged versions. Now this modern wonder climbed, acrobatic and straight up, with a howl of everything American that Remy needed it to be, swift, unyielding, harshly potent. When the pilot turned the twin-tailed fighter onto its back in a snappy barrel roll, Remy shook a fist beside his hip to keep the gesture out of sight of the guards.
McElway sidled next to him. "You got the best view."
Remy raised his nose, reluctant even to point. "Nah. He's got the best view. His gets to change."
The old man showed moon-pale teeth. "What do you reckon that fella was doin' shootin' up the creek like that? Three short ones. Then that long one."
"Showing off. Telling the Japs to go screw themselves. I don't know."
The piano player raised a fingernail yellow as his teeth. "That there, I think. That was Beethoven's Fifth." He dotted the air with his finger. "Dun dun dun daaah."
Remy considered the old man's lean face. Mac kept himself shaved, a rarity in the camp. He'd cozened a whole year out of a single razor blade. McElway was one of the few Allied negroes living in Manila when the Japanese captured it in January '42. They'd asked him to sign a statement supporting Nippon's efforts to free all races in Asia, including his own. If he would sign, they'd leave him alone. Mac patted his piano, said "Paalam" to the Filipinas in the whorehouse, and got on the truck with the other Americans.
Remy hadn't considered the musical quality of the strafing run. The pilot banked one more time, then flattened his wings for another sortie.
"This flyboy looks harebrained," Remy said to Mac, "so maybe you're right, Maybe it was Beethoven."
Topsy Willets, once a stout fellow who'd lost all but his double chin, shouldered his way between Mac and Remy. He stuck his head out the door to see the fighter returning. In Manila, Topsy had been manager of Heacock's Department Store and a regular at the University Club. He'd been a clever merchant, a transparent poker player.
Excerpted from Broken Jewel by David L Robbins. Copyright © 2009 by David L Robbins. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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