17. An offer Fagen can't refuse|
Fagen knew he had no real choice. He'd never leave the islands without Ellis, and for the first time since they'd
met, he saw the very real possibility of a future with the woman he loved. Clarita
sat beside him, eyes cast down, hands in her lap kneading her kerchief. He
knew going on the run was out of the question. He could tramp all over
Asia for years, and the army would never stop looking for him, probably already
offered a reward for his head. Even if he found a den of thieves vile
enough to accept him, he knew it wouldn't be long before he was murdered in
his sleep for the copper in his pockets.
His options limited, finished with
false hope, he vowed never again to go into a situation without both eyes open. He looked at the general and
said, "I'll ask you the same question I asked General Aguinaldo. Why
me? I'm just a private soldier and not a very good one. I've
failed at everything I've tried to do. Hell, I'm a shrine to failure."
"You're too hard on yourself, Mister Fagen. You have much to bring
to our cause."
"Begging your pardon, sir, but those are just words. They don't have
any real meaning to me."
General Sandico put both hands on the table and leaned forward. "David,
you are only a failure if you now choose to be. Fate has brought you
to us, and circumstance has made you more than a private soldier, more even
than a good man searching for peace of mind. Accept El Presidente's offer,
and you become a symbol of everything wrong in this world and everything
right. You become a shining example in your country and mine that truth
and moral purpose are more important than anything. We humans are paltering,
weak-willed creatures. We rely on the archetypes that rise from among
us to show us we can transcend, reach beyond ourselves and overcome life's
grim exigencies. Call it God's will, fate or circumstance, it makes
no difference. It's only important that you understand you can do more
than anyone else to rid these islands of the evil upon us, more even than El
Fagen searched the general's face for signs of dissemblance, but found none,
no trace of insincerity or unctuousness in his voice. At first he scoffed
at Sandico's attempt to make him a martyr, or a savior. He knew he was
neither, but if there were only a grain of truth in what the general had said,
then maybe there was a chance for him actually to do something with his life. If
he saw the immorality of this war, maybe others would too, and enough of them
would speak up and the awful killing would stop. He looked at Clarita. She
sat motionless, her eyes closed, tears streamed down her cheeks. Fagen
took a deep breath and said, "I couldn't make war on Negroes, sir."
The General stood up. "Very well. If you'll raise your right
hand, I'll administer the oath of allegiance."
"One more thing, sir." Fagen put his arm around Clarita and looked
into her shining dark eyes. "I don't think it's wise take this step
alone. I'm not Filipino, I'll need someone to help me with language
and local custom."
" El Presidente agrees with you. He has authorized me to
assign Senorita Socorro to that duty, if that is your wish."
Clarita looked at him, a little smile curled her lip. Fagen held her
closer. "It is my wish, sir."