6. Fagen meets Clarita

Outside, the sun high overhead, the two men strolled through the crowd until they came to a little gathering of people around a wooden platform covered by a huge umbrella at the top of a long pole. A Filipino man moved among the onlookers playing an accordion and singing a lively tune.

In a moment two young women climbed the stairs, stepped onto the platform and began dancing to the music. Identically dressed in white blouses and pleated red dresses, each had an arrangement of hibiscus flowers in her hair, wrists and ankles. The man grinned and played his song, but all attention was on the dancers as they paraded around the platform in opposite directions, weaving in and out with the music. Then the man played a different melody, and the young ladies took positions at the edge of the floor facing each other. They slowly folded their arms over their heads until the flowers at their wrists joined those in their hair and on the downbeat began the intricate steps of a stately folk dance. Their beauty and grace mesmerized the onlookers as the two girls wound in and out, back and forth. Fagen saw joy on the faces in the crowd. Clearly, the dance had meaning and was symbolic of something important in their culture. The dancers so expressive, so graceful in their movements, he was sure their performance that day was exceptional.

The spell was broken suddenly when a ruckus broke out a few yards away. Fagen didn't see what started it, but when he looked saw a cavalry officer and a sergeant standing over a young Filipino lying in the street beside an overturned wheelchair. The man had stumps for legs, and did his best to protect himself from flying leather while the officer savagely kicked him. The officer, a lieutenant, circled around the man screaming at the top of his lungs, "You stole my purse! Give it back you thieving gook bastard!"

Immediately a crowd formed. The old women and children, who just a moment before had been enjoying a peaceful Sunday afternoon, now disappeared. Only men remained in the street and some of their wives, knotted in an angry circle ten deep around the Americans, and by the murderous looks on their faces, it was clear to Fagen the situation could turn ugly fast. The two American soldiers saw it too. The lieutenant halted his attack on the helpless cripple and looked around at the growing mob of outraged Filipinos. Furious, red-faced and sweating, his voice shrill with indignation, he shrieked at the grumbling crowd. "He stole my purse! He stole my purse!"

The sergeant bent down and pulled a small leather bag from inside the cripple's shirt and held it up to the angry mob as proof of the lieutenant's charge, but that made no difference to the Filipinos, who shouted threats and curses while their circle closed ominously.

Fagen didn't know what to do. He and Ellis were unarmed. It was Sunday, the last thing they'd expected to encounter was two Americans in the middle of a Filipino street riot.

They stood just twenty yards away, close enough for Fagen to predict it wouldn't be long before blood was spilled. Neither the lieutenant nor the sergeant had noticed the Negro soldiers standing outside the circle of Filipinos. Fagen worried that if he intruded into the situation then, he might stir the mob into more than just threats, but if he did nothing, he might witness the massacre of two American soldiers. Ellis waited for his cousin to decide.

Just then Fagen heard a voice at his shoulder. "The man squirming in the dust is Manuel Garcia, the pickpocket. Four years ago the Spanish caught him taking food from a warehouse. They put him in stocks and left him there until his legs rotted away. Since then, he picks the pocket of every soldier he gets close to. He thinks it's his right."

Fagen turned and beheld the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen standing at his side, shielding her eyes from the sun. Tall, light brown skin, dark eyes and long, dark hair held loosely in back by a small mother of pearl comb, she looked very different from all the other Filipino women Fagen had seen. She held herself very erect, to meet the world face on, and she exuded great confidence. Through all the confusion around them, the girl sensed his indecision, smiled, and Fagen's heart began to melt. "They say if a pickpocket is noticed, his career is at an end," she said with a little wink. "Manuel Garcia must be getting lazy." Again that smile. That smile! How could any woman be so beautiful?

Just then the lieutenant spotted them. He and the sergeant stood back-to-back facing the mob, their pistols drawn, inching toward their horses tied ten yards away.

"You! You two, over here!" the officer barked. "This God damned town is full of thieves and murderers. Get over here now!"

David Fagen and Ellis Fairbanks moved into the crowd. The girl caught Fagen's sleeve and stopped him for a moment. "Be careful," she smiled, "but don't worry. This is a game we play when Manuel Garcia gets caught."

Ellis took the lead, and they pushed through the angry mob. Not knowing what else to do, they faced the crowd, their arms outstretched in a preposterous, futile attempt to push back the angry Filipinos. The sergeant pulled his hat tighter. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph laddies, where the hell are your weapons?"

"We're on day pass, Sergeant."

Then the lieutenant said, "God damned coons are useless in a uniform."

No choice but to give way by inches as the crowd moved forward, Ellis held his big arms wide, fingers extended, straining against the slow crush. Fagen remembered what the girl had said about this being a game. He hoped she was right and hoped those two white soldiers behind him didn't panic and start shooting.

Soon the lieutenant and the sergeant saw their chance to make a break and took it. Without a word and without looking back, they jumped on their horses, raced up the street and out of town. At the last moment, for a distraction, the sergeant flung the lieutenant's purse over his shoulder into the crowd, but no one bothered with it. Surrounded by a hundred silent Filipinos, Fagen looked around and observed their faces as they dispersed. He saw no hatred in their eyes, the Filipinos didn't even seem angry any longer. They just walked away as though the two black men were invisible or didn't exist.

It took a moment for Fagen to realize what had happened. They'd come to the aid of fellow Americans, and cowards, the men had turned tail and run. Suddenly a terrible emptiness swept over him, his head began to spin, and he grew weak as a child. He felt like he'd been gutted, his insides scraped out and the skin sewn up over the hole. Fagen sat down on the boardwalk and watched Ellis lift Manuel Garcia back into his wheelchair. The little Filipino had a few bruises and a small cut over his right eye, but was otherwise unhurt. Ellis picked up the lieutenant's purse and gave it to him. The cripple snatched it out of his hand as though Ellis were the pickpocket, and then wheeled himself furiously around the corner and out of sight.

"Are you all right?"

Fagen turned, and she was sitting on the boardwalk beside him. When he saw her his heart skipped a few beats, and in his weakened condition he thought he might faint. "The Americans say all life is precious, but I think they mean mostly their own."

Fagen stammered something in response. Later, when he tried, he couldn't remember what. A full minute passed before he moved from dumbstruck to tongue-tied. The girl sat beside him waiting, smiling all the while. Soon Fagen felt his strength return, and the empty, forsaken feeling fade away.

"I would like to hear the conversation between them when they finally stop to change horses," the girl said.

"Change horses?" Fagen wasn't sure what she meant.

She laughed and pushed a lock of hair over her ear. "They left in such a hurry the lieutenant rode away on the sergeant's horse."

Clearly, the girl found the whole episode amusing. Fagen wouldn't have thought it possible, but each time he looked at her she was more beautiful. When she smiled, her mouth turned up at the corners revealing a perfect set of small, white teeth. She had a high, wide brow, prominent cheekbones and a long thin neck. Fagen saw a small jagged scar just in front of her left ear. She leaned toward him and put her cool, dry palm on his arm.

"My name is Clarita Socorro."

"David Fagen. My friend there is Ellis Fairbanks."

"Are you feeling better, David Fagen? What will you and your friend do now?"

"I think we should be getting back to garrison."

A frown crossed her pretty lips. "So soon?"

"We'd better report back. Something tells me we haven't heard the last of this."

"Can you come back next Sunday? I will be here."

"I will if I can."

"Good. I will introduce you to my grandmother."

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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