"Right about what?" Willets asked.
Mac told him his guess about Beethoven's Fifth.
Willets shook his head. "I like Clem's idea better."
Clem, a carrot-topped Scots merchant seaman, had missed getting out of Manila by two days before the city fell. He got drunk and was late for his ship. Last week, he went to see one of the internee doctors, who told him he had dysentery. Clem's room was next to Remy's. He'd taken to moaning at night.
The week before, that same doctor had killed a family's dog to add it to that day's stew rather than see food meant for the internees go to keeping a pet alive. A son from the family beat him up over it. The doctor swore he'd do the same again and did not understand such selfishness.
Willets said, "Clem figures it's Morse code."
Mac recast the musical notes: "Dot dot dot dash."
"That's V," Willets said, raising two fingers. "For victory."
Clem's right, Remy thought.
He stepped out the door, onto the topmost bamboo tread.
Last month, sixty-year-old Scheyer was punished for standing outside while American planes were overhead. Scheyer had been manager of the Wack Wack Golf Course. Before the air raid, he'd eaten some flowering bulbs that turned out to be indigestible. Twenty minutes later, with the planes coursing past, he walked a few paces from his married barracks to throw up in private. Sentries nabbed him and took him to the front gate. They forced him to stand in the sun on a narrow concrete block for ten hours. If Scheyer wobbled or stepped off, they struck his legs with cane rods. The guards watched from lawn chairs. Scheyer left the camp hospital a week later with the backs of his legs still raw from a lack of iron in his blood.
The fighter pilot's engine wailed in approach. Remy said to him, "Attaboy." He took another stride down the bamboo steps.
Twenty yards off, one of the guards kneeling beside the office spotted him. The guard waved madly for Remy to retreat. He shook a small fist.
The fighter barreled closer, a mile off now. At that speed the Yank would blow by the camp in seconds. Would there be another machine gun melody? Was the pilot intending to chew up more jungle, maybe some of the camp this time? The huddling guard had seen enough of Remy. He got to his feet, unshouldered his rifle. He was not going to allow an American prisoner to gloat.
Remy split apart two fingers on his right hand. All he had to do now was raise the arm.
Brown hands lapped over his shoulders. Remy was tugged backward up the steps. Inside the barracks, Mac released him. The guard raised an angry finger at Remy, then resumed his squat behind the office steps.
Mac whispered in Remy's ear. "What you thinkin'?"
Remy kept his voice low for only his friend to hear. "Whyn't you grab me sooner? Jesus Christ. I almost did that."
"I figure you a grown man. Had some sense."
Remy rattled his head at himself. A gambler did not get carried away, ever.
Everyone in the barracks riveted their attention on the fighter. This time, the pilot didn't line up on the ravine outside the camp but aimed his nose inside the wire, straight for the great dao tree. He cut his airspeed.
The plane came in low and slow. Again, none of the guards tried to potshot it, though this time they might have had a chance. When the plane closed to within a hundred yards of the camp, its canopy slid open. The pilot faced the twenty-four bamboo-and-grass barracks, the weedy yards and worn paths, the two thousand Allied prisoners, and jackknifed his hand into a salute.
Remy, Mac, and Topsy Willets ignored the consequences and returned the salute. Behind them, the barracks rustled. Remy pivoted. In the windows, all the men had their hands flattened across their brows.
From the opened cockpit, a small package tumbled to land in the trampled grass of what had been the camp garden. Coursing the length of the camp, the pilot held his salute until he slid shut his canopy and gunned the motor. He dipped the fighter's wings, climbed into the last purls of mist above the jungle, and disappeared south.
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.
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