No one in the camp moved. Slowly, to the departing growl of the fighter, the guards came out from the pillboxes, shadows, and various crevices they'd dived for when the plane first loosed its guns on the creek. The small package lay untouched in the open. None of the Japanese came near it. Clem stirred first. "Maybe they think it's a bomb."
Mac said, "I hope it's a couple chocolate bars." The old man bared his teeth at the long-absent taste. His gums had faded to a milky pink.
Remy couldn't guess what had fluttered to earth; from seventy yards away it looked like an olive green ball.
"We'll find out," he said, "soon as Toshiwara crawls out from under his desk."
Every barracks waited for the commandant to sound the all-clear bell. Once the signal was rung, Remy could return his attention to winning McElway's egg. The last drones of the plane ebbed below the creaks of the rafters and the chirps of birds returning to the thrashed ravine.
Most of the men spread themselves on cots. A dozen queued in the doorway, to return to their assigned chores interrupted by the air raid. Firewood detail, cooking, tutoring, maintenance, sewing, administration; the men, women, and children in the camp handled hundreds of tasks, like in any small town.
The silence in the wake of the plane deepened. The collective breath of the internees was held. Guards ran pell-mell toward the field.
From the barracks beside Remy's, a tall boy strode with hands in pockets. He wore his black hair over his ears. His long-legged gait, in sneakers and patched shorts, was swift enough to carry him to the packet before the Japanese could beat him to it.
Once more, Mac lapped a hand over Remy's shoulder. Mac pressed to hold him in place, though he needn't have. Remy had no intention of going out there. He'd already had one brush with hotheadedness this morning. Besides, the boy had an independent streak. That's why the Japanese had taken him out of Remy's barracks and housed him next door, in No. 11 with the other troublemakers.
The boy, who'd grown gangly in his nineteen years, closed in on the packet, outpacing the guards. He bent his long frame to pluck it from the grass, then unraveled it into two parts. The first was just something to weigh the package down; he cast this off. The second item the boy held aloft, to show the camp a green box of cigarettes.
Willets snorted. "That's gonna be bad."
A tall man, Janeway, crowded beside Remy in the doorway. He'd been a bridge builder on Bataan, with a reputation for graft that stuck with him into the camp. Remy would not bet with him, he was known to welch.
"That's gonna get him more than a binta." Janeway patted Remy's arm. "Sorry, old man."
Janeway was right. The Japanese were not going to let the boy off with a slap. Far from it. Remy winced, quelling the impulse to pop Janeway in the jaw. Not because Janeway deserved it for his statement, but Remy wanted to lash out at something and Janeway had deserved it other times.
Close by, for Remy's ears only, Mac clucked his tongue. Perhaps it was the old man's brothel years that had taught him to speak softly.
"What is the matter," he whispered, "with the men in your family?"
Out in the field, the Japanese neared the boy, who maintained a purposeful, theatrical unawareness of them closing around him.
Remy answered, "I don't know."
Again he wanted to raise his arm and flash the V sign, this time so his son could see it. The gesture would serve no purpose. The boy was not facing him, nor was anyone.
From the commandant's office in the center of the camp, the brass gong tolled the all clear.
"But look at him," Remy said to Mac above the ringing. "He's goddam terrific, ain't he?"
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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