7. More than fair?

The garrison stockade, a walled-off corner of an old paint storage shed, was a temporary holding cell for soldiers who'd committed minor offenses. Those found guilty of more serious crimes were transferred to the stockade at Camp McKinley. David Fagen and Ellis Fairbanks spent that night and two more in confinement. Once a day a guard opened the heavy wooden door and delivered a pan of biscuits and a pail of water, exchanged the night soil bucket, and then left without a word. The heat of day forced the breathable air from the cell, and fumes from the tins of paint, turpentine and mineral spirits burned their lungs and made their heads pound. Fagen scraped a hole in a corner of the cell's dirt floor for Ellis when the fumes overcame him and he vomited uncontrollably. Heat and poisonous air quickly weakened the two men. To them, each passing hour in the nightmarish room seemed like days.

Late the third night the door opened, and a sergeant appeared carrying an oil lamp. Light flooded the cell, temporarily blinding the two prisoners. "Could I have a word with you, laddies?" Fagen recognized him immediately. Now he whistled a merry tune under his breath, and his face showed nothing of the fear of that day in San Isidro when surrounded by the angry Filipino mob. The man's casual, off-hand manner hit Fagen wrong, and a sudden, boiling anger surged through his veins. He tried to stand up, but the long days and nights in the cell had taken their toll, and he'd grown weaker than he realized. He fell back on one knee and glared up at the sergeant. "What do you want?"

"You should take it easy, young fellow. You're not looking so good." The sergeant stopped just inside the doorway and wrinkled his nose. "The smell of paint in here is enough to gag a skunk. I think I'd better set this lamp outside in good air. If these fumes were to touch flame, we could find ourselves blown to smithereens."

Cool night air flooded through the open door into the tiny room. Fagen lifted his head and took in oxygen. Ellis sat up, leaned against the opposite wall, and gazed feebly at the cavalry sergeant. Dried vomit stained his chin, his eyes yellow and bloodshot. "Why are you doing this to us?" he pleaded. "We never did anything to you. I'd rather be horsewhipped than locked up in here."

The sergeant looked around the tiny cell. "I think I'd agree with you on that one, big man, but you'd do well to be careful what you wish for. It's not me keeping you here, you see. I'm Irish, don't you know. The Sons of Erin wouldn't do this to a man. It's not in our nature to be cruel to another. More often than not we've been on the receiving end of treatment like this. You lads are here because you had the bad luck to get between a cavalry officer from Virginia and his pride."

Fagen needed every ounce of self-restraint to keep from strangling the chatty little sergeant with the pink cheeks and the flat, round face. "The Irish wouldn't put a man in a hell hole like this, but they'll stay silent while another man does it."

The sergeant squatted, and Fagen smelled whiskey on his breath. "Now there you've done it, haven't you? You've gone straight to the heart of the matter. Silence is what I've come to discuss.

"The truth of the matter lads is the story of what happened in San Isidro has already been written. All it needs now is your... What did the lieutenant call it? Oh yes, silent confirmation. It seems you two black fellows, not respecting local custom, tried to have your way with one of the native women. When her family discovered what you were about, they screamed like banshees, and you told them all to go to hell. That's when the real fun started. You lads were in a fine spot. The lieutenant and me happened to be passing by. Seeing the commotion, we stopped to help and right away half the blessed town was involved. That's when you boys ran and hid yourselves leaving me and the lieutenant at the mercy of the crowd."

"That's a damned lie!" Ellis spat.

The sergeant's tone became conspiratorial. "If I was you, big man, I'd have done with that kind of talk. It won't pay. If I was you, I'd stand before the provost marshal and admit what I'd done. Then I'd be turned loose from this place." The Irishman pulled out his brass pocket watch. "I'd be turned loose and back in me own bunk in less than an hour, slumbering peacefully until bird fart."

"So that's it. All we have to do is admit to a lie and it's over?"

"Repentance and redemption, lad," the sergeant smiled, his eyes wandering to the ceiling. "It's Almighty God's gift to the common man."

"And you could arrange this right now? Tonight?"

"There would be just one other detail, boys. That would be the loss of a month's pay for each of you."

Ellis jumped to his feet, "A month's pay! To hell with that!" He went for him, and the sergeant scrambled for the door. Fagen moved quickly between the two men. The sudden exertion made him nauseous and lightheaded.

"That is another matter isn't it?" the Irishman said. "You see there's the purse that's come up missing. It must have gotten lost or stolen in the struggle to rescue you boys. Who knows what happened to it? The lieutenant said there was eighteen dollars and change in it. Adding that to the cost of the purse itself, he feels it's only right and a month's pay each is more than fair."

"Fair is what you call it. I call it robbery and a damned lie."

"Take it easy, Ellis. Let this Irish gentleman finish."

The sergeant held up his hands, palms forward, "I've said my piece, boys. You've heard the whole lot. You were caught up in the flow of events, as they say. Truth be told, you probably couldn't have done nothing else. Bad things just happen to common people like us, lads. We don't often have a lot of choices. Hell, in another life I might even believe your side of the story."

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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