Stallion Gate
reach over the cage top and nearly touch the high explosive.
    Joe took from his pocket a buckskin strap and tied it to one end of the stick. When he was a kid, he and his friends used to hide along the Rio in the winter andtrap juncos. The fat gray birds liked to flock on banks where the snow had melted. The boys tied horsehair nooses on willow branches above the river’s edge and caught two birds at a time, singed the feathers off in a fire and ate them hot. Delicately, Joe slid the buckskin noose over a brick of gelignite. The explosive would go to Santo Domingo, a pueblo south of Santa Fe; there were some veterans among the Domingos, some experts with explosives. The gelignite fell on its side. He shook the stick to draw the noose tight, gently lifted the brick clear of the shelf and brought it over the top of the cage to his free hand. It was cool as clay. The second brick slid loose as it came over the top and he caught it waisthigh.
    The New Mexico National Guard had arrived in Manila in September of ’41. Supposedly they were chosen because New Mexicans were brown, spoke Spanish and would mix well with Filipinos. Rudy Peña had volunteered for the Guard because of his brother, Joe.
    Joe hardly remembered Rudy. He was ten years younger, pudgy, quick to cry. His black hair stood up like rooster feathers. He was a wetter of the bed he shared with Joe, a longtime crawler, a late talker. During the worst winter, when the Army came through Santiago in trucks and threw off fifty-pound sacks of dry milk that were frozen hard as cement bags, Joe dragged a sack in each hand while his little brother clung to his leg and bawled, his face a mask of frozen snot.The harder Joe tried to kick him off, the tighter he held on.
    By sixteen Joe had left the pueblo, and all he saw of Rudy was in photos from Dolores: Rudy and rabbits, Rudy on a horse, Rudy in a tie, the soft and surly face developing into a stranger with dark, nearly Arab looks. After the years of fighting and music in New York, it was a shock to hear that he’d meet his brother in the middle of the Pacific.
    Joe was training the newly constituted Philippine Army, and when he got back to Manila the Guard had already rolled out to Clark Field. The history of the Guard was a huge and intricate joke. Coming from landlocked New Mexico, they were trained in coast artillery. On arrival, they were given British cannons that had been bought as surplus from World War I. Within a week of the invasion they were fighting as infantry in the jungle. General MacArthur said the Philippines would never fall and President Roosevelt dispatched convoys of ammo and supplies to Manila, but out at sea the convoys turned around and headed for Europe, and MacArthur slipped away one night in a torpedo boat.
    Before Joe ever found him, Rudy had vanished. The whole New Mexico National Guard vanished on Bataan. When Joe escaped and got Stateside and toured defense plants, the colonel in charge of publicity called him a walking advertisement for the Army, which seemed illogical to Joe, since he was one of a handful of men who got out of the Philippines compared with all the thousands who didn’t.
    Dolores seemed to agree with Joe. She wrote him not to come back to Santiago because as far as she was concerned her only real son, Rudy, was dead. So instead of going home, Joe took the colonel’s wife to bed and got shipped to Leavenworth.
    One trick the Japs had was to tie themselves high up in the fronds of a coconut palm. A sniper would eat a handful of rice, then swallow water from a canteen to make the rice swell and the stomach feel full. They could stay up in a tree for three days. But this one had been up for a week or more, tied so tight he couldn’t fall, swaying in the breeze and watching the world go by: planes, patrols, clouds. Joe wouldn’t have seen him if he hadn’t stepped on a rifle and looked up at the face staring down from the palm. The head was black as a coconut: holes for eyes,

Similar Books

Clear Light of Day

Penelope Wilcock

Cranberry Bluff

Deborah Garner

Gilded Canary

Brad Latham

Bourbon & Branch Water

Patricia Green

Beyond This Moment

Tamera Alexander


Sara Craven, Mineko Yamada

Relative Danger

June Shaw


Eve Vaughn

Here to Stay

Catherine Anderson