25. Colonel Bloody Shirt pays a call

Over six feet, he was dressed completely in black save for a bright red sash above his waist. He wore a pistol on each hip, and two ammunition belts crisscrossed his huge chest. His head held high atop a thick, muscular neck, unsmiling, resolute mouth and dark, penetrating eyes, he paused a moment and surveyed the environment. Such an impressive man Fagen felt compelled to stand. "Capitan Fagen," the district commander said proudly, "may I present Vicente Torres."

Silently, the man stepped forward and extended his hand, his iron grip crushing. His piercing, cold gaze mesmerized Fagen, and he uttered the first words that came to mind, "Colonel Bloody Shirt."

A flicker of a smile, Fagen thought the man's face might crack. He'd amused him, no harm in that, but why did he feel like a mouse in the fangs of a tomcat? "Capitan Fagen, you're younger than I'd imagined. It is rare a man achieves infamy at such an early age."

"You're more gracious than I deserve, Colonel Torres. If my rude remark offended you, I beg your pardon."

Colonel Bloody Shirt scowled. "I took no offense. If I had, you would already be dead." Then he put a hand on Fagen's shoulder and smiled, "I ask you, amigo, should either of us be held accountable for the stories people tell?"

Colonel De Castro poured lemonade and offered some to the rebel leader. Torres looked at it as though a glassful of maggots, and then turned his attention back to the American Capitan. "General Sandico sends his regards. Since you've joined our cause, he scours Colonel De Castro's dispatches for news of the army's most - how shall I say it - extraordinary freedom fighter."

"I'm sure the General has better things to occupy his time, but when you next see him, please convey my good wishes."

"You are too modest, Capitan! Why wouldn't the professor-turned-general have time to study the activities of El Presidente's handpicked revolutionary? You're not just any other officer, Senor. You came into our midst bearing quite an influential pedigree. I myself have met Presidente Aguinaldo only once, and that was at an affair of state. My relationship with our supreme commander is purely professional. I've had no opportunity to make friends as you have. Perhaps someday you and he will allow me to join you for tea and fellowship. We can exchange views on making war."

Fagen knew his innocent slip of the tongue had placed him on the wrong side of Colonel Vicente Torres. Unintentional, he was sorry for it and had apologized. No need for Torres to taunt him. His whole life Fagen had what was sometimes called a "long fuse." His native tendency to turn the other cheek had gotten him through some tight situations, but as Ellis Fairbanks once said, things change, and right then Fagen decided, bloody shirt or none, if that man wanted a fight, he'd not back away. Colonel De Castro had gone pale. Their visitor's capacity for violent rages was legendary. He sensed the danger and took a tentative step forward. "Please, gentlemen. Let's be seated."

Torres ignored him. The two men faced each other three feet apart, their eyes locked. Fagen lifted his chin. "I already know your view of making war, Colonel." Torres blinked, arched a brow. As forbidding as the man was, he expressed everything through his eyes, and Fagen found he could read him like a book. "I know it includes robbing and humiliating innocent American women." Fagen watched him try to recall, searching his memory, uncertainty momentarily on his face. He decided to help. "Merilee Shaw."

Fagen saw an array of emotion cross his brow, the man's entire thought process there to see if a person had the courage to look. Then Torres did the last thing Fagen expected. His feet shoulder width apart, fists balled on his hips just above his pistol belt, he took a deep breath, threw his head back and laughed. Not just a laugh, but an exultant, jubilant roar from the depths of his iron gut that filled the tent and sounded like barrels rolling around in a basement. Face to the ceiling, tears in his eyes, his entire frame convulsed with laughter. "Heaven be praised!"

Colonel De Castro, too afraid to join in and too afraid not to, cleaned his spectacles, smiled weakly and whispered, "Huzza!"

Still chortling, Torres finally said, " Senor Capitan David Fagen, You are a delight! Now I know the wellspring of your patriotic zeal! My journey here is rendered worthwhile. Tell me, what news of Miss Shaw? I trust she battles with us still from her comfortable apartment in Boston? Quite an imposing woman, she's possessed of many qualities and virtues I find admirable in a man."

Fagen couldn't keep up with him. Too unpredictable, his thought patterns too capricious, mood swings too erratic. Right then Fagen didn't care who summoned whom. He decided it time to end the interview and get away from Colonel Bloody Shirt before something popped out of the man no one could control. "If you're through with me, Colonel Torres, I have my duties to attend to."

In an instant the man's face turned hard, and the muscles in his neck rippled. "Not quite through, Senor Capitan. I've brought you a gift."

At that he faced the tent opening and barked an order. Two soldiers entered dragging the body of a white man, which they dropped roughly at Fagen's feet. Naked, filthy, his emaciated body was covered head to toe with bruises and lacerations. His arms lay akimbo in the dirt, broken at the elbows, the joints black and distended. The fingers of both hands were bloody and swollen, the nails gone. Large patches of hair had been ripped from his scalp, and his front teeth were missing. Colonel De Castro felt for a pulse. "He's alive, but not by much."

Fagen turned him over. Deep bruises around his throat, rope burns. Numerous ugly penetration marks around the groin, he'd been tattooed. Fagen had never seen a man so horribly tortured. He pried open an eye, deep blue, like looking through a hole in the clouds. That's when he recognized him. He'd been so shocked by the man's pitiable condition, so horrified by the violence inflicted upon him, it hadn't occurred he might know him. When he peered into that cold, blue eye and realized who it was, the air went out of him and a thousand memories flooded in. Captain Baston.

"He said he had information vital to our cause, but he'd only talk to you. My men did their best to persuade him to tell me. I wanted to - how shall I say it - spare you this nasty business, but even at this hour he remains stubborn in his refusal to cooperate. I give him credit for grit, as the Americans say, but I wash my hands of him. He's yours now to do with what you wish."

Bloody Shirt gave another order to his men and then followed them out. Pausing at the door, he turned and glowered down his nose. "One more thing, Senor Capitan David Fagen. I hear there's a price on your head. Remain vigilant. There's no end to what some people will do for money."

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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