19. "Capitan" Fagen

"Capitan Fagen!" He heard it through the din inside his head. " Capitan Fagen." Twenty yards behind, Sargento Canizares pointed to his left. Two Americans had backed Clarita and another Filipino, a young man named Baltazar, against the belly of a supply car. They shot Baltazar immediately, but intrigued to find a woman on the battlefield, didn't fire on Clarita. She'd lost her pistol, and now faced the American soldiers with her bolo knife brandished before her. The men stopped in their tracks.

Cowards, but not willing to admit they were intimidated by the fiery Filipino woman slashing the air with her long, razor-sharp knife, the two men hesitated for a moment, exchanged nervous glances, tried to make a joke of the situation. All the time Fagen needed, he covered the distance fast, shoulder-blocked the first man and delivered a hard elbow smash to the throat. The soldier was dead before he hit the ground. Clarita lunged at the other American, but he spun away in time and countered with a rifle butt to the small of her back. She went to her knees, slumped against the train car, and just before her eyes rolled up in her head, managed to toss Fagen her bolo knife.

The American lunged at Fagen. All he had to do was shoot and it was over, but instead he stepped over the body of his friend and moved Fagen in circles until they were behind the car. Determined not to go without a fight, Fagen slashed at the dagger-like bayonet on the barrel of the American's Krag. The man sneered, and then laughed out loud, brown tobacco juice leaking down his chin. "You're Fagen, that turncoat nigger everybody's been talking about. You're not near as big as they said you were. I take your ears back in a bag, I'm the most important man in the U.S. Army." He stopped, pointed the rifle at Fagen's chest and pulled the trigger.

They say if you're close enough, you can hear the discharge before you die. Fagen didn't think he'd feel the bullet rip through his heart, not enough time for that, but he'd expected to see the muzzle jump, maybe see the flash then hear the bang. Like most men, Fagen had wondered occasionally about his thoughts at the exact moment of his death. He always assumed they'd be of his loved ones, his mother, Ellis, now Clarita. Strangely, in the instant he had left, his mind flashed on the warm, sunny afternoon in San Isidro when among the crowd he first saw Clarita's grandmother, and she read the Tarot. No time to reflect on the entire reading, of course. The American had pulled the trigger, the hammer was falling, but Fagen remembered the lesson of The Hanged Man. "We win by surrendering," the old woman had said. "We control by letting go." It had seemed absurd at the time, now it made more sense.

But something was wrong, something left out, not right, and Fagen suddenly realized what it was. Where was his divine understanding? Grandmother had said it was his reward for letting go. He didn't mind dying on the cross of his own travails, that was in the cards, but he couldn't abide not getting what was promised him. It wasn't right, and he wouldn't stand for it.

Click. The hammer fell on an empty chamber. Out of ammunition, the soldier's jaw dropped, and he stared down at his rifle in disbelief. He could have used his bayonet, it was only inches from Fagen's chest, but he really had no chance. Fagen knew something the man didn't. Fagen knew it wasn't his time to die.

In one quick motion he stepped to his left and brought the big bolo up in a sweeping outward arc, striking at the base of the skull. The knife passed effortlessly through, and the man's head hit the riverbed and tumbled ten yards with the current before his knees buckled and he dropped, spraying black blood all over.

Clarita had a nasty bruise on her hip, but alive and otherwise unhurt, Fagen sat with her in the cool water and held her until she caught her breath. Maybe she'd been right, maybe God was on their side that day. Fagen looked up and noticed the shooting had stopped. Sargento Canizares had slung his weapon, climbed on a railroad car and shouted orders. A squad of Filipinos with bolos moved among the Americans making sure none was left alive. A man scampered up the hillside and returned with four mules. The others quickly tied on bundles of rifles and crates of ammunition.

Clarita stirred, tried to get up. "We have to get out of here." She was right, but Fagen had come so close to losing her, he needed to hold her for another moment, to make sure she was all right. An ugly picture formed in Fagen's mind. They say you can only kill a man once, but if that filthy, tobacco-chewing soldier had injured Clarita, Fagen would have killed him and then himself and followed him to hell so he could do it again. A little breeze came and cleared the canyon of gunpowder and coal smoke. The sun shown on the river, and in the quiet backwater where they sat Fagen looked down and saw the reflection of a guerilla soldier. His white peasant shirt torn and spattered with blood, he stared back with angry, wild animal eyes. His jaw set, teeth clenched, his face a ghastly, open wound that shouted to the world Beware! I'm a man with something to kill for! Suddenly terrified, Fagen tried to close his eyes against the terrible visage. Too horrible to look at and too compelling to turn away from, Fagen forced himself, looked in the water again and realized the hideous, forbidding creature was he.

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1. Fagen arrives in the Philippines

2. White soldiers bring their prejudice with them

3. Fagen hears another side of the story

4. Dinner with Colonel Funston

5. Fagen's first taste of combat

6. Fagen meets Clarita

7. More than fair?

8. The water cure

9. Fagen gets his fortune told

10. Imperialism exposed

11. Sergeant Rivers speaks his mind

12. Genocide

13. Fagen meets El Presidente

14. Bad news comes to Fagen

15. Fate takes over

16. San Lazaro leper hospital

17. An offer Fagen can't refuse

18. Funston makes a plan

19. "Capitan" Fagen

20. Funston assembles his team

21. Morality, ethics and war

22. Jungle encounter

23. Commencement

24. Benevolent assimilation

25. Colonel Bloody Shirt pays a call

26. Fagen declares war on God

27. Major Baston tastes his own medicine

28. Funston on the march

29. Fagen goes home